Vision: Violet Crown Festival and Violet Crown Community Works

I wrote Vision in Fall 2006, and I continue to update it. At the time, I was a founding Violet Crown Community Works board member (2003-2007) and festival volunteer (2003-2010). Vision was incorporated into a festival handbook produced as part of a project between VCCW and students in the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. We also distributed a survey to neighbors in Brentwood and Crestview, and the response was gratifying. New board members and new volunteers stepped up to lead and to help with the nonprofit and festival, which made it possible for both to continue in 2007 and beyond.

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BEGINNINGS

In early 2003, Brentwood artist Jean Graham shared her vision for a mosaic Wall of Welcome with a small group of neighbors in the Brentwood and Crestview neighborhoods of Austin, Texas. Jean dreamed of covering a 120-foot-long brick wall at 7100 Woodrow Avenue near the Crestview Shopping Center with designs that would preserve some of the history of the two mid-century neighborhoods. The brick wall was on the center’s private property, and Jean had already met with the owners and secured their permission to install the Wall of Welcome there.

All of us soon were convinced that we wanted to raise money for the wall, uncertain then exactly how we would do it. A growing number of Brentwood and Crestview neighbors met that winter and spring, and within a few weeks plans for a multi-faceted, all-volunteer community event began to take shape. We decided to hold the first Violet Crown Festival in Spring 2003—just a few short months away. We also began to create a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Violet Crown Community Works, to help build and sustain community in Brentwood and Crestview through neighborhood enhancement projects and events. Founding board member and festival volunteer Sandra Miron came up with the name for the nonprofit.

Each of us had different ideas of what the festival could be, and our early meetings were intense, collaborative, creative, and productive. As we moved forward with planning the event, the “heart of the festival” became clear to us:

  • See that Jean Graham’s Wall of Welcome becomes a reality.
  • Celebrate the Brentwood and Crestview neighborhoods, which share many common concerns and goals.
  • Bring together all elements of the community—individuals of all ages, schools, neighborhood associations, community groups, churches, and businesses.
  • Strengthen our sense of place, by making our neighborhoods’ history and community resources an integral part of the event.
  • Create an event that, like the Wall of Welcome, would reflect the unique spirit of Brentwood and Crestview.

We knew that building and sustaining community among all neighbors here was especially important, since fewer and fewer of Brentwood’s and Crestview’s original residents still lived here. More than a half-century ago they had established the small-town sense of community within a larger urban area that continues to attract new residents.

We called the new spring event the Violet Crown Festival, because the name has historic ties to Austin and to this area. As early as the 1890s, Austin was described by a local writer as the “City of the Violet Crown.” In the late 1940s and early 1950s, developers of the Brentwood neighborhood used the term “violet crown” to name a subdivision, a number of businesses, and a shopping center. Austin’s “violet crown” describes the color of the hills to the west at sunset. These hills were still visible from the two neighborhoods when the first residents moved here and began to plant trees on the open land. Read more about the history of “violet crown” here.

On Saturday, May 17, 2003, our first Violet Crown Festival became a reality.

Somehow, even with too little time, too much to do, and too few volunteers to plan it, on the morning of our first festival we were ready. After putting up displays in the Community Tent, I remember looking out to see if anyone at all would show up. Slowly, young families, older neighbors, and people of every age in-between began to arrive, and they kept coming all day. They looked around as if the festival was something they’d waited for all their lives but didn’t know it until that moment.

CROSSROADS

By Summer 2006, after four successful annual spring festivals, Violet Crown Community Works and the festival were at a crossroads. We had raised more than enough money to complete the Wall of Welcome, and Jean Graham had begun installing the wall earlier that year. The festival had become an annual tradition in Austin and an asset for those considering moving to Brentwood and Crestview. Schools, churches, neighborhood associations, civic groups, businesses, and hundreds of residents of all ages had come together to help with the event. The VCCW board wanted to ensure that the essence of these community building efforts was sustained.

VCCW President Shayla Fleshman, artist Jean Graham, and Amy McGeady and I, both VCCW board members, consulted with Allison Supancic at the Hogg Foundation Library at the University of Texas at Austin. Allison was well respected for her in-depth knowledge of nonprofits and the grants process. We described the festival and nonprofit to her, and she told us grants were available specifically for community-building events such as ours. More funding could mean less work and fewer volunteers needed for the festival, and that sounded hopeful. Having enough volunteers and other resources always has been one of the group’s greatest challenges. Unfortunately, no one in our group could take on grant writing at that point.

Allison also told us that students in the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin often worked with nonprofits as part of their coursework. She thought our group and its challenges would be a good fit. We submitted a proposal, and VCCW was chosen for a Fall 2006 class project, coordinated by Shayla, Amy, and me. With the students’ help, VCCW conducted a neighborhood survey, in addition to compiling a festival handbook. We wanted to hear from our neighbors about what was important to them. We also wanted to share with them our experiences, so that they might be inspired to work on community building projects, too.

People responding to the survey overwhelmingly agreed that Jean’s work has helped sustain the strong sense of community established by early residents. People agreed that being a good neighbor is important and said they wanted to help with upcoming projects. Thanks to those new volunteers, the fifth Violet Crown Festival was held on May 5, 2007.

DEDICATION

On March 29, 2008, hundreds of neighbors celebrated the completion of the Wall of Welcome at Crestview Shopping Center. We were especially happy to see so many of the neighborhood’s original residents there. They were among the most enthusiastic and loyal visitors to the wall during the two years Jean worked on installing it—encouraging her, helping with the work, and sharing their memories of the neighborhood. Jean documented their stories and incorporated as many of them as she could on the wall. Some of them were among the many neighborhood residents who attended Jean’s tile-making workshops and created their own unique tiles to add to Jean’s designs on the wall.

In November 2006, Jean had been named a Local Hero by the Bank of America Neighborhood Excellence Initiative, for bringing together the arts and the community through her two mosaic projects and First Night Austin project. In January 2007, she had received a Kickass Award, one of several presented each year by Austin writer Spike Gillespie on her birthday to people “who do great work in the community, often for little or no recognition.”

DEEP COMMUNITY ROOTS

The real heart of our efforts became clear to me the day of the very first festival in 2003: to care for what is most precious to us here—our families, homes, friends, schools, churches, businesses, and neighbors—and to reach out and find common ground among us. I believe that whenever we are able to do both, we are doing all we can to help the Brentwood and Crestview communities continue to thrive.

As we worked together to create a mosaic wall, a festival, and a nonprofit, we experienced how powerful creativity can be when its roots are set deep in the community, and its branches reach out to all our neighbors. Each of us is like one of the mosaic pieces on the Wall of Welcome, so unique on its own and yet so much more as part of a greater whole. When we come together with intention and contribute the gifts we each have to offer, we really can make a difference, right here.

COMMUNITY PROJECTS SUPPORTED

Proceeds of the first five festivals—2003-2007—were designated for the Wall of Welcome project. The October 2008 event provided support for the Voices of the Violet Crown community/history project. Festivals in May and November 2009 supported Voices of the Violet Crown and future enhancements to the Wall of Welcome. The May 2010 festival benefited the Friends of Brentwood Park. VCCW’s support for other neighborhood enhancement projects continues today.

VIOLET CROWN FESTIVAL DATES AND LOCATIONS

Spring festivals—Brentwood Park: May 17, 2003; May 2, 2004 (rain date); May 7, 2005; May 6, 2006; May 5, 2007; May 2, 2009; May 8, 2010; May 5, 2012; May 4, 2013; May 3, 2014; and May 6, 2017. 6701 Burnet Road Market: May 7, 2011. Brentwood Elementary School (where the fall Violet Crown Arts Festival also has been held): May 2, 2015; and May 7, 2016.

Fall festivals—Crestview Shopping Center: October 11, 2008; and November 14, 2009.

(The mosaic Wall of Welcome dedication, coordinated by Violet Crown Community Works and other neighbors and friends, was held at Crestview Shopping Center and on Woodrow Avenue on March 29, 2008, so there was no Violet Crown Festival that spring.)

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