O'Connell / #ATXFreeArtFriday – Austin’s Free Art Movement / Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Professor Crochet-Os' artwork is hidden by a larger graffiti wall.

Last week’s hidden Professor Crochet-Os stencil. Will you find free art this week?

Musicians from Trent Reznor to Jonathan Coulton, even authors like Cory Doctorow benefit from giving away their creative work for free, turning altruistic sharing into media buzz. So why not visual artists too?

Though the idea of sharing free art has been around for some time, the Free Art Friday movement is blossoming in Austin, Texas. At its core are street artists like Roshi K and Man With A Pencil, part of the growing Sprax family. Each Friday, dozens of artists like them hide their art throughout the city then post clues on Instagram. Whoever finds the art first gets to keep it.

The Spratx family are street artists working in mediums ranging from traditional painted canvas to wood cut outs to wheat paste, screen printing and stickers. Their artwork frequently appears on walls around town and at the HOPE Outdoor Gallery, an inspiration for Spratx as well as its frequent creative outlet.

Ready, steady, go!! . . . Oh, and do be on the lookout for Spiders nearby. Happy hunting! @spratx #atxfreeartfriday #finderskeepers #stellar_roz #elephant

A hidden artwork by Stella_roz

I sat down with Mouf at the new Spratx Gallery and shop on 501 Pedernales Street in Austin’s east side. While a talented multimedia artist in his own right, he sees himself as the business minded heart of the group, helping turn artists passion into successful careers.

“We want Spratx to be synonymous with Austin street art,” he told me.

And while the gallery and attached store is an exciting new way for artists to share their work, the real focus remains in the streets. That’s where #ATXFreeArtFriday comes in.

Giving away your work might seem counterintuitive, but Mouf argues that it creates a powerful link between the finder and the creator. Discoverers of free art become fans, sometimes even commissioning work later. But the value of the free buzz is immeasurable.

“Once you find a piece, you’ll know that artist forever,” Mouf said. “And you’ll talk about it with your friends.”

Anyone can be part of #ATXFreeArtFriday, but to fully participate you’ll need the Instagram app on your iOS or Android smartphone. Here’s how to play:

  • Search for the #ATXFreeArtFriday hashtag on Instagram. Artists begin hiding work and posting clues sometimes as early as 12:01am on Friday, and continue throughout the day and often into the night so be sure to reload frequently.
  • Look at the clues, and when you think you recognize a location get there as fast as you can.
  • Every free artwork will be labelled with the Instagram username of the artist. Find the clue and post a reply (“Finders keepers!” or “I found it!”) then,
  • Instagram a photo of the artwork — pose with it, or show everyone where you’ve put it up in your home. Be sure to include the #ATXFreeArtFriday hashtag and @tag the artist.

Last Friday when I was exploring the graffiti wall near the gallery with friends, I discovered this fab Mr. Sparkle stencil by Professor Crochet-os, and now it’s part of my living room decor. Maybe you’ll discover something to put on your walls, or hang from your keychain?

“A lot of people think it’s only about Spratx,” but Mouf stresses that #ATXFreeArtFriday is open to any artist at any skill level. Check out this complete guide to participation.

After you hunt for art on Friday, check out the new Mouf / BLVD show “Not Cut Out For This” over the weekend. This canvas-free, all wood cut-out show opens 6pm Saturday January 26 in the Spratx Gallery at 501 Pedernales Street, Unit 2A. Free drinks will be served.

O'Connell / 100 Year Starship: Last Thoughts & Recap (#100YSS) / Saturday, October 12th, 2013


What an honor to attend this year’s 100 Year Starship Symposium. For four days and three nights, some of the smartest minds around gathered in a hotel in downtown Houston to think about the future. For me, the exercise of looking forward was just as stimulating as anything specifically discussed. Humanity so rarely looks beyond even the next 5 years, that I think it can only elevate us as a species to work together toward further goals.

Sign: What will We discover from another star?

The 100 Year Starship Symposium urged humanity to look to the future.

But I’ve always been a dreamer about space from infancy, when my parents tell me my first word was ‘stars’ (thanks to the glow-in-the-dark stickers on the ceiling over my crib). For a weekend, all the smart people in attendance didn’t need to justify their geeky love of space travel, but instead got to indulge their wildest imaginations and share their purest research. At 100YSS, the “bottom line” isn’t the potential profit for investors, but the potential enrichment for humanity.

I was struck by the parallels between the themes at this Symposium and the activism that’s taken up so much of my last 2 years. As LeVar Burton points out in my video, we have to dismantle the war machine to free the funds — and the human resources — needed to take us to the stars. We need to undo the damage done to our education, if we hope to create the scientists, engineers, and dreamers that will make the journey. To go to space, we have to preserve our home — its beauty and its ability to sustain life — first and foremost. To govern a starship, or our planet, we need new, more sustainable ways of measuring financial success and governing human behavior.

Some other recurring themes:

  • Biophilia. Humanity depends on other life. Nature, our bacteria and other stowaways in our bodies. The wind, sun, and rain on our skin.
  • Every step to the stars must benefit life on Earth as well.
  • “Everyone has dreams, even if you don’t have a blanket to sleep under.” -Mae Jemison. Dreamers, writers, artists have a crucial part in  visioning our future before the engineers create it, and then helping the world understand it after the engineers and scientists invent the tools.
  • Rather than planning for only ideal human behavior, find ways to cultivate good behavior and allow for the inevitable breakdown.
  • Overview Effect. Can we help all of humanity understand how fragile and worth protecting our world is? By looking down on Earth from space, astronauts realize that borders are an illusion. How do we do that here?
  • Crowdsourcing Space. Every human needs a stake in our future.

I made several posts about the 100 Year Starship on Firedoglake’s Bytegeist:

And collected tweets, photos, and other media from the Symposium on Storify:

I sent several emails asking for more information from specific presenters. If I end up writing more about the Symposium in the future, I’ll add the links here.

Photo by Kit O’Connell, released under a Creative Commons license.