AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Creative Alliance, a cultural hub and safe space for artists on the east side, was vandalized overnight. The windows are now boarded up, but the paint and curse words are still on the walls, visible for all to see.
An exhibit sparks outrage
"The reason why I created this body of work is to host a conversation," said Jean-Piere Verdijo, a mixed media artist who created the exhibit Agency at the Crossroads, currently on display at the Austin Creative Alliance.
The exhibit focuses on the problems gentrification poses to urban cities. What was meant to be an open dialogue turned into a shouting match between patrons.
"Instead of a conversation, it was one-sided,” said Barbara Weems, with the Austin Creative Alliance.
Weems said the anger was from members of the organization "Defend our Hoodz".
Austin Creative Alliance leaders said the group has harassed them on social media for the last six months. "They've been harassing our members of color, particularly our female and trans members," CEO John Riedie said.
KXAN reached out to organizers of Defend our Hoodz several times. They didn't want to comment for this story.
"They represent a rage that comes up around this issue that is real and that is an experience that a lot of people have. I don't want them to be silenced or shut out or looked down upon,” said Verdijo.
While the artist and the Austin Creative Alliance want to use the exhibit to start a conversation, they say the damage done only hours after that shouting match, is where they draw the line.
"You can’t harm people. You can't harm their property. They are scare tactics is what they are trying to do,” Weems said.
It's still unclear who is behind the vandalism. Weems said Austin police are trying to track down the culprits. For now, they just want to find common ground and bring peace back to the neighborhood.
"Gentrification is something that is on our radar, we think it's a real problem and we are happy to talk about it with whoever wants to join the conversation,” Weems said.
Who is Defend our Hoodz?
The group does have a social media presence. Members called for a boycott against Austin Creative Alliance and a development project on East Riverside last month. Defend Our Hoodz specifically says it is against displacement and gentrification in Austin.