If these Walls Could Talk

Austin's musical history on display at this colorful South Lamar spot

Austin's musical history on display at this colorful South Lamar spot

Micael Priest Pointer Sisters Poster
Micael Priest's iconic cosmic cowboy look was used on more than just country bands. Micael Priest/South Austin Museum of Popular Culture

The South Austin Museum of Popular Culture, better known as SouthPop, is keeping Austin’s music history alive by showcasing photographers, poster artists, print makers, and other creatives who have covered the city’s increasingly diverse music scene over the years.

Located next to the Planet K on South Lamar Boulevard, visitors to this colorful spot are greeted with a surprising array of art upon pulling into the lot, from a mural from famed Armadillo Art Squad artist Kerry Awn to a humorous series of work from Bob “Daddy-O” Wade titled 40 Years of Blood, Sweat and Beers. And inside, more surprises await.

“SouthPop is a very Austin-centric place that is an example not so much of the 'Keep Austin Weird' aesthetic, but the eccentricity, sense of community, and creativity that brought us here today,” says Stephanie Donahue, director of community outreach and communications.

Currently, SouthPop, which opened in 2004, is showing work from poster artist Micael Priest, which will be exhibited until mid-June. Priest, who died in 2018, was part of the Armadillo Art Squad, a group of artists tasked with creating work for the legendary Armadillo World Headquarters.

“Priest was one of the most prolific artists of the Armadillo Art Squad during the rollicking, merge of hippies and the cosmic cowboy culture [in the 1970s]," explains Donahue. "The posters are really important because they were a takeaway for each show. People still collect these, and it especially meant a lot if you were at that show.”

In 2006, Margaret Moser wrote a profile on Priest for the Austin Chronicle titled "A Lot of Cojones and a Little Faith," for which the retrospective is named. Wrote Moser, "To many, Priest rules as the godfather of poster art in Austin because his work is among the most enduring."

Indeed, Priest's work — along with the work of his fellow artists — became the enduring imagery of Austin's culture in the '60s and '70s.

“[There was a] huge convergence of creatives coming into Austin because young people around Texas were finding out if you're a hippie it was the place to be,” Donahue adds. 

And due to this influx, the city became known as a destination for musicians, drawing the likes of The Pointer Sisters, Frank Zappa, The Talking Heads, and Bruce Springsteen, among others, and eventually gaining the moniker Live Music Capital of the World.

“Poster art really informed the culture of Austin back then,” she says. “Now, SouthPop seeks to create a bridge between this time period and today to let people see that it's a template for what's going on now.”

In addition to curating rotating exhibitions like the Priest retrospective, SouthPop also hosts album re-releases, which further educates today’s Austinites of the city’s past.

“The show we had just before this exhibit[ion] was a really cool,” Donahue says. “It was the re-release of the album Live at Raul's that was recorded 40 years ago with punk bands from the late '70s and early '80s. We had a mixed crowd of young and old coming to see these great photos, flyers, posters from the punk era and to buy the album.”

SouthPop also has a free music series the last Sunday of every month on its outdoor stage, and curated by the VP of the board/director of events Freddie Krc.

While patrons enjoy the live music, they are also invited to check out more of SouthPop’s artistic offerings. For example, in front of the outdoor stage, there are art cars, including a succulent-and-cactus filled one, that came from Planet K owner Michael Kleinman, a co-founder of SouthPop and big supporter of the arts.

There’s also the memorial wall, which is one of the museum’s biggest draws.

“The wall is here to pay tribute to the movers and shakers of Austin: musicians, politicians, artists, and creatives of all stripes,” Donahue says. "We are constantly in the process of updating it and upgrading it. People come to help us clean the altars put fresh flowers and really take care of it. It means a lot to our patrons, especially if they have a family member on here.”

SouthPop is also hoping to expand outside from its space with eventual pop-ups throughout Austin. And, fans of art cars can expect more of those as well. The board of directors is currently in talks about driving forward with an art car movement.

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See "A Little Cojones and A Lot of Faith" on display through June 16 during SouthPop’s regular hours, Thursday through Sunday 1-6 pm.