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Annual East Austin event keeps getting bigger and bigger

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

This year, the numbers are staggering.

The annual East Austin Studio Tour includes 154 destinations — studios, galleries, warehouse workshops — where the work of more than 280 artists will be on display.

And the tour is longer, with the previous one-weekend parameter expanded to two weekends that are united by a week filled with programs and other happenings. Art-making demonstrations, yoga for creative inspiration, tours of a environmentally sustainable house, live performances and previews of the City of Austin Art in Public Places projects pack the EAST calendar now.

"I don't know how it keeps getting bigger, but it does," says artist Shea Little, one of the tour's co-founders. "I keep thinking the tour is going to plateau in size, but it just doesn't."

Expanding EAST to two weekends should give everyone time to see more, Little said.

Little, a native Austinite, started EAST six years ago along with his wife, Jana Swec, and Joseph Phillips, also a native Austinite. The trio of artists had just set up their studios in a warehouse on Bolm Road east of Airport Boulevard and were looking for ways to network.

They certainly weren't the first creative professionals to set up shop in East Austin. With its building stock replete with the kind of easily adaptable small-scale warehouses typical to light industry, the neighborhoods that sit east of downtown and extend along corridors such as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street have for several decades beckoned artists.

Artists Philippe Klinefelter and Sunyong Chung found the area more than 25 years ago. The couple bought a 1920s farmhouse and small chicken barn on Boggy Creek in 1983 for $73,000. They've since bought adjacent properties to make a 2.5-acre parcel that houses their studios (he's a metal and stone artist, she's a ceramist) as well as buildings for guest artists to work in. (The couple built most structures on their property from re-purposed and recycled building materials.)

For several years, Chung and Klinefelter had participated in a now-defunct open studio tour that a group of architectural artisans held. But when that event ceased, so did the chance for the couple to not just invite the public to their studios, but also network with other artists.

When the EAST organizers came knocking, Chung and Klinefelter welcomed the fresh energy. "It was time for someone new to make a move and get things going (for artists) here," says Klinefelter, whose granite bas-relief panels grace the baggage-claim area at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

While Klinefelter or Chung might see 300 or more visitors each day during an EAST weekend, they don't count on the event to bring them a windfall of art sales. But sales are not really the objective, notes Klinefelter, whose large-scale works are created on commission. "What (the tour) brings us is a way to just share what we do and how we do it with people," he says.

Architect Lousie Harpman echoes that eagerness to share the creative process with people. Harpman's firm, Sprecht Harpman Design Studios, is one of several architecture and design concerns that are new to the EAST roster this year — an effort, organizer Little says, to broaden the scope of the event.

Beyond showing models and photographs of their programs, the designers of Sprecht Harpman will set up participatory design activities to give EAST visitors a way to be a part of a design challenge.

"Architects feed off being around people — artisans and artists — who are making stuff," says says Harpman, who teaches architecture at the University of Texas. "And what's so great about creative visual people is that they feed off each other. (EAST) is a way to demonstrate that and get people aware of (the creative) process."

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

Art you can skate on and more, for free

With the East Austin Studio Tour now stretching over nine days, there's a wide offering of free events. Here are just a few:

City of Austin's Art in Public Places Program hosts open studios with artists recently commissioned for new public art projects.

East Seventh Street Corridor Obelisco project: Metal artist Aly Winningham and painter Nailah I. Akinyémi-Sankofa will talk about their designs for the Obelisco project. 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Terra Firma Studios, 2009 S.L. Davis Ave.

Susanna Dickinson House and BMX Skate Park project: Metal artists Hawkeye Glenn and Lizzie Martinez will discuss their design for the historic Susanna Dickinson House. Chris Levack will talk about 'Steel Wave,' a skate-able steel sculpture, for the BMX/Skate Park. 6 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19. The Splinter Group studios, 405 Springdale Road.

'Livestrong Headquarters: A Sustainable Remodel'

For the new headquarters of Livestrong, home of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, an East Austin warehouse was transformed into an environmentally friendly office by noted designers Lake Flato Architects along with the Bommarito Group. Tours and presentations on the building's green and sustainable features will be offered. 6 to 7 p.m. Nov. 17. Livestrong, 2201 E. Sixth St.

'Architects as Artisans'

Members of the Austin chapter of the American Institute of Architects who are also accomplished artisans discuss their work. 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20. Clayworks Studio, 1209 E. Sixth St.