New east Austin mosaic, made by group of neighbors, reflects community’s changing story

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new mosaic, installed recently at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center in east Austin, reflects the way the community weaves its own story together, the organizing artist says.

Ryah Christensen, a mosaic artist who’s lived in the east Austin neighborhood for 20 years, came up with the idea for the “Community Quilt” mosaic and enlisted more than 100 neighbors to design and craft individual tiles that work together collectively.

More than 100 people had a hand in making the mosaic now installed at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

The finished product reminds Christensen of “how we create community.”

“We come from our different places, we talk to each other, we learn from each other, we borrow from each other culturally, linguistically, spiritually, philosophically,” she said, “and then we create something that we do see ourselves in, but is new and different.”

Like much of east Austin, the neighborhood is changing as new development displaces longtime residents. Christensen said over the course of several workshops earlier this year, some new neighbors joined in with more established families to create the piece.

“And I think it’s hopeful in that sense, that despite the challenges that this neighborhood is undergoing, we can have a conversation,” she said.

The “Community Quilt” mosaic was installed in September at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

‘Very proud to be part of this community’

Emy Leviege, an artist who lives in the neighborhood around the center, designed a few tiles for the mosaic. Seeing the finished project installed in mid-September, she said, “really brings happiness.”

Emy Leviege points out the tiles she designed on the “Community Quilt” mosaic. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

She’s lived in this part of Austin for more than 20 years, and she’s watched as it’s changed. Leviege is “very proud to be part of this community,” and the mosaic is important to her because it illustrates something she feels is fundamental.

Some of the piece’s contributors spoke little or no English, and Leviege helped translate the mosaic’s mission.

“Art and paint is the universal language,” she said. “So it’s really what it’s about, the community and the neighborhood.”

Showcasing the center’s services

Many of the people who showed up for the workshops didn’t know the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center even existed, center manager Ana Montiel said.

Run by Austin Public Health, the space offers health and social services, along with other basic needs like food and job training.

Montiel hopes the mosaic draws more people who need services.

“This is your center,” she said. “The reason we are here is to serve you.”

More projects to come

A Kickstarter campaign raised more than $8,000 to fund the mosaic, and the community will gather on Wednesday, Nov. 6, to celebrate its installation.

The City of Austin Cultural Arts Division of the Economic Development Department and Austin Public Health also provided support, as did the Austin Creative Alliance, Hotel San José, Fort Structures, Armadillo Clay, East Side Pies, the Side Bar and Harvest Lumber Co.

Christensen said the success of the project encouraged her to pursue more projects like it in the future.

Mosaic artist Ryah Christensen points out some of her favorite tiles incorporated into the “Community Quilt” mosaic. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

Gentrification, she believes, is a product of several economic factors that likely won’t let up in east Austin communities any time soon. It’s changing the fabric of neighborhoods, and that’s why she said projects like this that bring neighbors together are even more important.

“I do think that you can try and pass along the story of a neighborhood through art,” she said, “through stories.”

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