This weekend brings the On & Off Fredericksburg Road Studio Tour — affectionately called “Fred” — to the Deco District again for the fourth year. Inspired by E.A.S.T., the East Austin Studio Tour, Fredericksburg Road’s jaunt differs from the Austin event, which depends on drawing out-of-town artists to display their work. Participation in On & Off Fred is limited to locals, artists who live or work within the Deco District neighborhoods.
The annual art crawl has grown big — this year’s tour features almost 70 artists at 42 locations. The neighborhood-run event now has the scale and panache that usually comes with a big producer’s budget, with a catalogue giving each artist her own page, and an additional 200-plus performers and guest artists on hand at the galleries and studios. The secret of Fred’s success isn’t big money, though. Organized by the nonprofit art gallery Bihl Haus Arts, the tour is strictly homegrown and local.
I met up with Kellen Kee McIntyre, the director of Bihl Haus Arts, one warm afternoon last month. “Call me when you get here and I’ll let you in the gate,” she told me on the phone before I started off. I have visited many neighborhood art galleries, but this was the first time I had passed through security to gain entrance. Though open to the public, Bihl Haus Arts’ main obligation is to the residents of Primrose at Monticello Park Senior Apartments, an affordable elder housing community that surrounds Bihl Haus on the gated property.
The gallery affords exhibition opportunities to professional and college artists, presents poetry readings, music, and theatrical performances, and is also the site of ongoing classes in the arts open to both Primrose Senior residents and members of the surrounding community. Unlike many facilities that sequester seniors from the general population, Bihl Haus puts Primrose residents in a leadership role that bridges generations. Residents serve as volunteer docents at the gallery, introducing visiting school groups to the art. Leading up to the Fred Tour, they also assist local artists in writing their statements for the catalogue, and mentor artists in the business aspect of their work.
“At the university, artists are given a strong grounding in studio practice, but the business of art is neglected,” said McIntyre, who left an academic career as a specialist in Latin American art to found the art center in 2005. This is certainly true, for the arts have suffered from a self-image of mystique shared by the public at large that places artists outside the confines of everyday life in a rarefied realm. Like seniors, artists are often remaindered.
In the few years that it has run, the On & Off Fredericksburg Road Studio Tour has successfully served as a catalyst to revive the economy in the Deco District Business corridor by using a model of sustainability and self-reliance. That it joins artists and elders as interdependent members of the social fabric is a healing much in need by all.