New Canopy complex aims to bring East Austin artists together

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New Canopy complex aims to bring East Austin artists together

It’s the kind of site artists dream about.

There’s some 40,000 square feet within three large inter-connected warehouses. There’s an equally spacious lot with plenty of off-street parking.

And best of all, there’s an address in East Austin, the area that in the past few years has become synonymous with the arts community.

Right now, the buildings on 916 Springdale Road look like any other construction site.

But come January, the place will open as Canopy, a complex of studios, offices, galleries and a café all stitched together by courtyards and breezeways — and yes, 158 parking spaces.

Plans call for Canopy to have 45 individual studios, eight multi-use spaces that could be used for galleries or offices for creative industry professional and one space being built-out to suit a café or restaurant.

Although the facility is owned and being developed by a consortium of private business people, the artist-founded non-profit group Big Medium — the folks who started the East Austin Studio Tour — is Canopy’s anchor tenant. And once Canopy is open, Big Medium will open its new gallery there, act as the site’s coordinator and use its space to continue to organize EAST. (This year’s EAST runs Nov. 10-11 and Nov. 17-18.)

Last week, a couple of dozen artists donned hardhats and put up with a drizzling rain to tour the Canopy site during an open house event aimed at potential tenants. (Rents for individual studios start at $500 per month. See www.canopyaustin.com for information.)

Architect Jay Colombo pointed out how by just erasing some of the existing building elements will open up others. A courtyard has been carved out of the tallest of the three warehouses, and part of the roof has been opened up, allowing natural light to filter into studios that will ring the courtyard on two floors.

And a breezeway is taking shape between the complex’s two one-story buildings. Metal trusses that once supported a roof now emerge as trellises that will offer dappled shade.

Smaller common areas are planned throughout the complex.

Colombo, a partner with Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, said, “We wanted to create a place that would foster creative community. We want to offer a variety of spaces for people to gather or to hang out or want to come to.”

Hsu added that the design tactic was to leave well enough alone. Sometimes the cool features of an industrial building can just remain the cool features of an industrial building.

“We kind of put our architecture hats on the shelf for this one and tried not to over-design it,” Hsu said. “If there was raw concrete, we left it exposed. We tried to be more low-key.”

The Canopy warehouses were once home to a Goodwill facility that closed a few years ago.

At the back of the site, another warehouse has long been the headquarters of Blue Genie Art Industries, creators of funky, iconic statuary and signage. Blue Genie will remain as part of the Canopy complex.

Another outbuilding is the Blue Theater, a venue for alternative productions, though with its managing group relinquishing its lease, the theater’s future as a performance space is still to be determined.

Big Medium staked out its presence in East Austin in 2002, taking up residence in a scruffy set of storage-cum-warehouse spaces on Bolm Road just east or Airport Boulevard. Then, just a trio of art school grads — Shea Little, Joseph Philips and Jana Swec — organized the first EAST in 2003. Just 28 studios were included.

This year, like last, more than 300 artists will participate in the tour.

In the past decade, East Austin has sprouted several art hives. Art Post on E. Cesar Chavez Street, and Pump Project Art Complex on Shady Lane, are two of the more prominent and long-lasting studio complexes. Others have come and gone.

“We have such a strong creative community in Austin,” Colombo said. “We need a place to foster that.”

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