Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Austin’s Temporary Art

Nov. 4, 2015

Established by the City of Austin in 1985, the Art in Public Places program is celebrating its 30th year with TEMPO, a project consisting of ten new art installations placed temporarily around the city. From August 17 until January 18, ten TEMPO projects will be installed in various districts of Austin in attempt to get citizens to explore their city in new ways.

As a whole, the Art in Public Places program (AIPP) aims to collaborate with artists to create works that communicate Austin’s values, culture and history.

Funding for Art in Public Places comes from the Hotel Occupancy Tax, which, according to the website of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, is a tax imposed on the rental of hotel rooms, bed and breakfasts, condominiums, apartments, and houses. The tax is 9 percent the cost of the room.

Each public art project has a minimum amount of $3000 and a maximum amount of $10,000 available in terms of funding.

This past spring, Art in Public Places put out an open call for proposals for pieces of art to be included in the TEMPO project, named for it’s “temporary” aspect.

Anna Bradley, Art in Public Places coordinator, said that a three-member selection panel comprised of interior designer Christ McCray, visual artist and gallery director Jade Walker and artist and independent curator Jaime Castillo reviewed each proposal.

“Each proposal from artists included a sketch or rendering of the artwork, a narrative, preliminary budget, exhibition schedule and site location,” Bradley said. “The intent for the temporary public art is to cultivate curiosity, spark imagination and engage the community in a meaningful dialogue about public art and foster work by local artists and cultivate tourism,”

Carolyn Volk, 25, moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas at Austin and remained in the city after completing her degree. Volk visited Omission while it was located at Longhorn Shores Park and fully supports the government’s involvement with the arts.

“I believe that a portion of tax dollars should be used on public art projects,” Volk said. “Art is an important form of creativity and self expression that encourages people to observe and be aware of things outside of themselves.”

Ryan Massey, 20, a junior pursuing an art minor at Texas A&M University, made a point to visit Earth Mother while in town visiting family. Massey says that art is an integral way for citizens to connect with their city.

“I think it’s so important that the government funds these projects because it gives them a way to connect with citizens beyond laws and elections.” Massey said. “It shows that they care about all that this city has to offer, including local artists.”

Bradley said that overall feedback for the project has been positive.

“Each project has engaged the viewers in unique and different ways,” Bradley said. “Many viewers are discovering the artworks in their normal routine and posting pictures of themselves with the artworks, while other viewers are seeking out each artwork from our maps and publications.”

While most feedback may have been positive, not all citizens have treated the installations with respect.

Las Piñatas, a TEMPO installation in Edward Rendon Sr. Park by David Goujon consisting of three, bright colored, 10-foot tall piñatas on display from Oct. 9 until Nov. 22 were a subject of vandalism just nine days after their installation. The giant piñatas were knocked out of their concrete bases and tire prints and beer cans covered the ground around the sculptures.

According to Goujon’s proposal, his concept for the piñatas was “in response to the Lejarazu family having their piñata store, Jumpolin, razed to the ground with their personal belongings and merchandise inside.”

Jumpolin was an East Austin piñata shop that was destroyed overnight Feb. 12 after the landlord insisted that the owners had not paid rent for the month of February. The destruction of the Jumpolin store led to conversation surrounding the gentrification of East Austin. According to Goujon’s proposal, Las Piñatas seeks to prove that “every act of creation begins as a form of destruction and every city will see parts of itself die as it grows and expands.”

The piñatas will be restored and celebrated Nov. 14.

To Carry or Not to Carry?

Oct. 14, 2015

Fifty years to the day that Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas Tower shooting 43 people and killing 13, Senate Bill 11, colloquially known as “Campus Carry”, will be implemented at the University of Texas at Austin.

According to the FBI, there has been an average of more than 11 mass shootings in the U.S. each year between 2000 and 2013. In the wake of yet another campus shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon Oct. 1, the conversation about guns on college campuses continues at the University of Texas at Austin as President Fenves decides how to implement S.B. 11, signed into effect June 1.

S.B. 11 allows for the carrying of concealed handguns by licensed holders on campus. A person must be at least 21 years of age to hold a concealed handgun license. UT estimates CHL holders to be less than 1 percent of the student population. With the passing of S.B. 11, it remains illegal for a person to openly display a firearm both in campus buildings and on campus sidewalks and streets. For 20 years, CHL holders have been able to carry concealed handguns on campus; however, S.B 11 extends this right into classrooms and offices.

S.B. 11 allows for each university to regulate the carrying of concealed handguns on campus and the storage of handguns in dormitories and residential facilities, yet the rules enacted may not “generally prohibit” license holders from carrying guns on UT campus.

Fenves has established a 19-member working group that will recommend how the law should be enacted on the Forty Acres. The working group held two forums to hear from students, faculty and staff and alumni, who were given the opportunity to present to members of the working group how S.B. 11 should be sanctioned.

Madison Yandell, UT government major from Wichita Falls, Texas and president of the College Republicans at Texas, said that she wanted to echo Fenves’ statement that this is not a safety issue, rather a perception issue.

“As a female student, campus carry on campus would allow me to have the knowledge that I can protect myself from violence walking to and from campus, especially in high crime areas,” Yandell said.

Justin Stone, senior law student and CHL holder from Austin, said that he chooses to carry because he likes to be prepared.

“I do not want to have to use my firearm, but I am not afraid to do so,” Stone said. “I ask that we please continue to have faith in the law-abiding citizen and adopt the least restricting campus carry policy we can.”

Stone says that Campus Carry will not largely impact his daily routine.

“I’m going to be the same man exercising the same judgment with which I am entrusted today,” Stone said.

In the wake of all the discussion surrounding Campus Carry, UT alumna Jessica Jin, a 24-year-old San Antonio native currently living in Austin, created a Facebook page, “Campus (DILDO) Carry”, where more than 9,000 have vowed to join, carrying dildos on campus to protest how ridiculous it is that guns should be allowed.

“I need this proliferation of dildos to offer people a visual representation of what it would be like if we all carried guns. It should look ridiculous to you. That is the point. This is America; if guns and bloodshed don’t wake people up, a public celebration of sexuality may just do the trick. We’re going to need a lot of dildos,” Jin said.

In response to the amount of media coverage the event has already received, Jin says that she is “grateful that the eyes of the world are now on the Texas Legislature and UT.”

Fenves is set to announce his policies regarding by the end of November. UTPD says that they’re working closely with the working group, discussing what it would look like for guns to be on campus.

“I know that it is my hope that with Campus Carry law there is training for people who want to carry,” Officer William Pieper said.

Melysa Barth, 22, a senior education major and current student government parliamentarian from Houston said that at its core, Campus Carry is an issue dividing UT students and faculty and that she can see the issue from both sides.

“As a TA, I would not want my students having guns out during class. But as a student and a firm believer in our constitutional rights, I do believe we have the right to protect ourselves. This law is simply in place to help us better protect ourselves in the event our life is threatened.” Barth said.

 

Analyzing Food Delivery Apps

favor

Nov, 2015

Consumers drive the multibillion-dollar industry that is food delivery service without really having to drive anywhere at all. The demand for any kind of food, namely from restaurants that do not deliver, to be transported directly to the doorstep with a few taps on a smart phone has grown immensely in the past year, particularly in Austin among University of Texas students.

 

Food delivery service startup apps are growing at exponential rates. According to data from CB Insights, a venture capital database that aids in tracking the growth of private companies, more than $1 billion was invested in these startups in 2014, with another $500 million invested in the first quarter of 2015. Austin, ranked America’s second fastest growing city in 2015 by Forbes Magazine, is a prime market for these apps. But at the bottom of the multibillion dollar industry, what are consumers paying and how much are the employees making?

 

Favor Delivery, a startup app co-founded by Zac Maurais and Ben Doherty in 2013, has become a staple in college towns, namely in its founding city of Austin. Favor has expanded to 14 cities and as of Nov. 9, has completed 1 million deliveries. It uses a completely cashless system, where users input credit card information and pay through the app itself. By tapping three times on a smart phone screen, anyone is able to get anything at the touch of their hands without leaving their house.

Favor earns revenue by partnering with 13 Austin-area restaurants per day to “feature” their items on the front of the app and by charging delivery fees.

 

While Favor does have a few full-time employees, the majority of Favor employees work part-time on their own flexible schedules.

 

John Kelly Coffman, 20, a sophomore Business major from Dallas, became a Favor runner during the summer of 2015 to help earn extra cash. Coffman says that getting a job with Favor was not difficult.

 

“Becoming a runner is easy,” Coffman said. “Through the app menu, there is a button that says apply to be a runner and there is a phone number to call to set up an on-phone interview and an orientation session.”

The cost to Favor any item consists of a $5 base fee plus the cost of the items, along with a processing fee that is 5 percent of the item cost and a $2 minimum tip to the runner. While the couriers get to pocket 100 percent of the tip, they only receive a portion of the delivery fee.

 

“On weekdays, I would get about $1.75 of the delivery fee, while on weekends I would get about $2 due to surge pricing upping the delivery fees,” Coffman said. “I usually averaged $12-13 an hour.”

 

Coffman said that the main demographic he delivered to was college students. But the steep price of door-to-door delivery stops some students from using the app.

 

Elizabeth Wilkinson, 19, a sophomore government major from Fort Worth, Texas, says that while her friends regularly Favor meals, snacks and items they are too lazy or too busy to get for themselves, she is not a fan of Favor. When asked to describe Favor in one word, Wilkinson used “pricey.”

 

“Favor is every college kid’s dream, or so I thought,” Wilkinson said. “It started off great until I got a cold omelet and prices kept rising. The price is not worth it.”

 

Freshman theatre major Alex Eastman, 18, from Houston, uses Favor once or twice per week to order food directly to her dormitory building and is not bothered by the price, because the matter of convenience is too good to be true.

 

“I use Favor because I enjoy staying in bed and don’t have a car to be able to go pick up my own food,” Eastman said. “Even though they have Favor in Houston, I didn’t know what Favor was until I got to college. I got lazier when I got here.”

 

Favor is not the only delivery app in Austin. Postmates, an app and online delivery service founded in San Francisco in 2011 by Bastian Lehmann, Sam Street and Sean Plaice expanded to Austin in June of 2014. While Postmates is very similar to Favor, it has not seemed to make a dent in Favor’s escalating success among students.

 

Rachel Dean, 18, a freshman business major from Dallas, regularly uses Favor, but used Postmates on a weekend where the company offered “Whataburger on Demand.” The deal was for Postmates to deliver a meal from Whataburger for just $2. However, Dean described her experience as “super annoying.”

 

“First of all, the delivery charge when I tried the first time was $6 and when I tried again, it was bumped to almost $10,” Dean said. “It said there were no available cars to get my food and that I should try again in a few minutes. When I tried 10 minutes later, it said the same thing. It charged my card the money even when I canceled the order, but they said it does that to everyone and it goes away in a couple of days.”

 

The charge was reversed two days later. When asked if she would try the app again or recommend to a friend, Dean said she would not.

 

Data from CB Insights suggests that the number of mobile delivery apps will continue to grow, and as it does, the competition to be cheaper, faster and more reliable will only increase.

 

 

 

 

Using Media to Understand and Change the Global Food System

Sept. 16, 2015

Raj Patel, academic, writer, activist and award-winning writer, said that raising public awareness and promoting the demand for policy development in attempt to transform the global food system is crucial and that media is a strong vehicle for creating public policy in a room full of twenty Ph.D. students Thursday at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

As food prices skyrocket, climate change is rapidly affecting our planet and our life expectancy rates are quickly decreasing directly because of our food choices, it is becoming increasingly evident that changing the food system is essential. Enter: “Generation Food”, a revolutionary media, documentary and book project spearheaded by Patel and award-winning director, Steve James, regarding important strides in the global food system. “Generation Food” looks specifically at communities across the globe as key test sites of research and food production in terms of the child malnutrition rates and attempts at experimentation with a range of different kinds of food that cut back on environmental effects while still maintaining an output of food that sustains our planet.

Patel said that “Food, Inc.”, an investigative documentary released in 2008 by filmmaker Robert Kenner focused on the corporate farming industry in the United States painted the global food crisis in an unfair and untrue light. “Food, Inc.” makes the claim that it is consumer demand that has the power to change the entire food industry. Yet according to Patel, the idea that if we make healthier choices, production in the industrialized food system will change, the “chomp our way out of it” approach suggested by the film, leaves the food industry laughing. Data from Nestlé’s global sustainability report supports Patel’s claim, as statistics from 2014 reveal that consumer habits only have about a 4 percent effect on influencing production output, classifying it’s value as “moderate”, while agriculture is classified as “major” in terms of directly and indirectly promoting economic activity and improving livelihoods of agricultural workers in order to promote sustainable agricultural communities.

“The idea that you vote with every bite you take is a convenient myth that Americans buy into,” Patel said.

Patel said that much of the global food crisis has to do with the fact that we are living in the “era of cheap food,” where cheap workers need cheap care, which requires cheap food and cheap fuel and contributes to an overall “cheap nature”. In order to produce a dollar burger, everything must be cheaper, from the ingredients to the labor, affecting not only the quality of the final product, but the quality of life for workers. Fresh fruit and vegetable costs are rising and growing more unattainable while processed food and meat costs are not.

“Generation Food” looks specifically at Malawi, a country in southeast Africa, as a key test site of research and food production in terms of the child malnutrition rates and attempts at experimentation with a range of different kinds of food that cut back on environmental effects while still maintaining a sustainable output of food. Patel said that the idea that in order to feed more kids, we need to grow more food is mistaken and it’s important to tell people the truth.

The issue isn’t the amount of food in the Malawian fields; the Soils, Foods and Healthy Communities Project, a group of research teams formed to assess soil fertility, food securities, and child malnutrition, shows that while there is enough food in the fields, child malnutrition rates continue to rise. The bigger issue at hand is one of gender equality: it is the woman’s role to harvest and cook, but while they’re tending the fields, breastfeeding rates plummet leaving children famished.

Patel said that in a time where academic journals are largely ignored, “Generation Food” uses media to explore how attempts at greater gender equality can play a larger role. “ Generation Food” promotes women to roles as community leaders, where they are given the responsibility of overseeing the changes in their own area and taken to do the same in surrounding communities, empowering one another to make change. At the time of production, 17,000 farmers in Malawian villages were involved and malnutrition was being combated on a new level. But “Generation Food” doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, as some of the men are reluctant to change the existing gender structure where women carry the largest burden of work.

“You can end it with guitar music, but there isn’t a happy ending that is easy here. Simplifying it isn’t fair. It’s hard and it represents the struggle well,” Patel said about the film’s ending.

Patel’s focus is not only on the results in Malawi and other key test sites across the world, but on media to promote change. While a film may have shock value and get people talking, Patel’s real question is whether or not film can make a statement that makes global change.

Eli Pouplso, a Ph.D. student studying elections at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, was impressed by Patel’s presentation but skeptical of the reliability of using media to promote change.

“The idea that activism itself can bring change is nice but at some point, activism needs to be related to political action to bring change,” Eli Pouplso said. “My assumption is that if you really wanted to get involved and make change, you would use politics.”

While Patel agrees that political action is certainly important, he argues that film can be a strong candidate as a method for organizing people behind a cause.

Peter Ward, professor and organizer of the Ph.D. colloquium agrees with Patel that media can certainly generate change.

“Major media pieces like “Generation Food” are crucial in raising public awareness and promoting the demand for serious policy development and evaluation,” Ward said. “As several participants noted, it seems unlikely to have a dramatic effect, but that does not belie the effort and importance of doing the work that Dr. Patel is undertaking.”

“We don’t quite know what we’re doing,” Patel said. “But with food, you get joy three times a day if you organize around it and this film is most definitely a method for organizing.”