The Austin-tatiously named Castle in Austin is famous for its unique street art adorned walls of concrete. Situated below what does indeed appear to be a modern castle, there is the unfinished structure of some building or other that for reasons unknown has been left as a canvas for those who use the spray can as their artistic instrument. What’s quite exceptional is that this location is a mere 10 minute walk from both the business district and the famous 6th street of Texas’ capital.
I wandered up to what we would think of (in our more judgmental moments) a street rat in Perth, who by virtue of the location had transformed into a fully fledged artist. “Can you just spray here, or is it still illegal?” he looked up from his work and un-enthusiastically told me “You need to have a permit from the council.” before carrying on his work.
Now it’s a magnificent location, of that there’s no mistaking. From the top of the would-be building you have an incredible view of downtown Austin and all its delights, but more than just marvel at the art and the view, I had a job to do. Asked by a chum unequalled to immortalise his tag in America, I had no doubt that this was the place to do it. I trawled through the litany of empty cans on the ground, hoping for just enough paint to get those all important 5 letters out. Suddenly, after an ostensibly fruitless search I came across a sharpie. Broken from the top, but I hoped still containing enough paint inside to enable me to complete my pilgrimage to America with honour.
Stepping on it and bending the metal that was heated by the summer Texan sun, I managed to confirm that there was indeed a large amount of paint still inside this all important pen. Sadly, the confirmation came in the form of a spray of black all over both my clothes and skin so that I looked decidedly guilty. Perhaps it was just deserts for my circumvention of the permit laws that allow such a brilliant location to exist so centrally in this fine city.
Later that night I found myself discussing this gem with some locals and heard them recount stories of when they had brought couches and mattresses to the site in order to drink and paint the night away. I could not help but think that the high quality of the street art one sees in Austin and especially at the Castle is a direct result of the liberal attitude the capital city of one of America’s most conservative states has taken to graffiti at this site.
What might otherwise be an eyesore has become a popular attraction within the city, and it’s helped foster another cultural scene in Austin that is the envy-at least-of this traveler. Freedom invites creativity and leads to exciting new developments that otherwise would not get the chance to be conjured up, let alone expressed. One of the most valuable lessons I have learnt in the States is that it’s not about pumping targeted money into the arts that brings about the biggest cultural boost, it’s about liberty.