Friday, February 26, 2016

Austin's Graffiti Park at HOPE Outdoor Gallery

My favorite piece

Street art started catching my interest when I was living in Penang, Malaysia. Taking a photo next to the Kids on Bike mural  and going on street art scavenger hunts has become one of the must-do activities for visitors there. As I've traveled around the world, this particular public art form has been a draw for me whether I'm in Paris, France or Rapid City, South Dakota. So, I was excited to discover that the street art scene has taken off in my hometown of Austin, Texas during the years that I was overseas.

HOPE Outdoor Gallery

Most of the popular street art around town seems to fall into the wholesome category suitable for using as a backdrop for the holiday card family photo. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery, a.k.a. Graffiti Park, has a edgier feel to it. It first came to my attention when a friend posted photos of her daughter's hip hop dance crew taken at HOPE. "What?!," I thought to myself. "Something this cool exists in Austin?" I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised what with the "Keep Austin Weird" motto of this Portland-of-the-South.

HOPE Outdoor Gallery launched five years ago as part of SXSW. Spread across three tiers of concrete walls that are supposedly what remains of an abandoned condo construction project from the 1980's, it's said to the be the largest outdoor mural project in the city. The original info I found for it asks artists to submit applications to be considered for displaying their creations here. In magazine and travel blogs, it shows up as a place that everyone, both Austin residents and tourists alike, must visit.

A few weeks ago, I was finally in that part of town and decided to pay HOPE a visit. On this quiet weekday afternoon, parking was already scarce. I imagine it must be rather difficult on a fine weekend. With the tiers rising up before me as I approached the outdoor gallery, it was a little hard to take in. There was so much going on visually. 

There's now a trailer near the street entrance that supposedly sells cans of spray paint if you want to get in on the action. It was closed when I visited, so I didn't get a chance to leave my mark. I was glad that I'd worn sturdy shoes as the hike uphill alongside the concrete walls was a little steep and uneven. No stairs were in sight anywhere. I wanted to get closer to the art on the upper tiers but didn't feel like I was quite agile enough to hop over walls and drop-offs.

Heading through a gate at the top of the hill, I was surprised to find myself in front of an office building disguised as a castle. This city landmark belongs to Castle Hill Partners, owners of the property where HOPE is located and sponsors of the original art installation launch. Hmmm... it also seems like the parking here (West 11th Street off Blanco Street) was a much better option as long as the gate to the gallery is open. I've always wanted to get close to Austin's famous Castle, so stumbling upon it during this outing was a bonus.

As I walked around HOPE, I didn't quite know what to think. I really had, pardon me, high hopes for this place. It is so hyped up as a essential part of the Austin experience. But compared to what I've seen elsewhere, I was disappointed. It may have started out great and semi-curated, but the current practice of letting any person let loose with a can of spray paint has diminished the quality in my apparently not-so-humble opinion.

My favorite piece, the woman's face in the first photo of this post, has probably survived unscathed because it is up high and out of reach to anyone without a ladder. Every other surface was covered with layers and layers of random scrawlings, like the kind you see at restaurants where you can grab a marker to write on the wall. Empty spray cans littered the ground. Broken beer bottles were scattered around, too. I must be a hypocrite because I found this urban art experience that I sought out a little too urban for me. How I long for Singapore sometimes. 

As an observer, I give this place 3 or even 2 out of 5 stars. I think the magic must be in getting to be a participant. To be the one wielding the spray paint and leaving your mark without fear of repercussion.

Do you consider this art?

It’s Your Turn, Link Up Your Newest Travel Inspiration

I've joined up as one of the co-hosts of Weekend Travel Inspiration.
  1. Link one of your inspirational travel photos or stories to this post by adding your info.
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  3. Visit some of the other wonderful travel bloggers, read their posts, and leave a comment.  It would be great if you could comment on 2-3 posts.
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I've also joined with the following linkups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Postcards from The Library of Congress

The Great Hall of the Library of Congress

Libraries have always had a special place in my heart. Growing up, books were a way to travel around the world and throughout time without ever leaving my cozy chair. I swear that in 6th Grade, I went to the school library every morning to check out a new book which I would read from cover to cover that night. Even now, I volunteer at my kids' school libraries and find a zen-like peacefulness in each book having an precise place where it belongs.

When we visited Washington, D.C. last fall, I wanted to go to the Library of Congress for no other reason than it has the second biggest collection in the world. I had no idea how drop dead gorgeous the building is inside. Tall windows flooded the room with light. Vivid colors popped out in contrast to the ornately carved marble. I had yet to lay my eyes on a single book, and I was already captivated.

Friday, February 5, 2016

China Two Ways

For the longest time, I thought EPCOT's China Pavilion at Walt Disney World would be the closest I would ever get to visiting China. Standing in the middle of the huge theater and watching the CircleVision 360 movie that surrounded me on all sides whet my appetite for a journey to the homeland.

If you're not familiar with EPCOT, half of the park is the World Showcase where pavilions from eleven different countries encircle a large lagoon. Each country sets the mood with iconic buildings such as the Eiffel Tower in the French pavilion and the Chichen Itza pyramid in Mexico. In Italy, you feel like you've just stepped into Venice's St. Mark's Square that happens to have a fountain evocative of Rome's Trevi Fountain on the side. In just a few hours, you can pretend you are hiking around the world as you walk from pavilion to pavilion.

The China pavilion at Walt Disney World EPCOT

As a kid, I was puzzled by the China pavilion as I didn't recognize the building. It was neither the Forbidden Palace nor the Great Wall -- the only two famous Chinese structures I knew. When I finally visited Beijing (the real one, not a Disneyfied version) a few years ago, I was excited to figure out that Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest within the Temple of Heaven complex is that building from EPCOT.
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