How to EAST: A newbie’s guide to the East Austin Studio Tour

The free EAST map, which has a key to all venues on the back, is available at all branches of the Austin Public Library.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the East Austin Studio Tour, colloquially known as EAST, starts this weekend. EAST is a city-wide event in which local artists open the doors of their studios to the public. Many galleries and organizations, do, too. This year, EAST runs the two weekends of November 10-11 and November 17-18.

If you’re like I used to be, you might be curious about EAST, but feel intimidated by its sheer size. (This year, there are almost 600 venues!) But fear not; EAST is totally do-able, and with some tips and advice, you’ll have a great time. When you’re through, you’ll have some tired feet, and a new appreciation of the vibrant art scene here in the ATX.

To get a better idea of what EAST is all about, I spoke to Jordan Gentry, director of programming at Big Medium, the Austin non-profit that puts on EAST and other art events throughout the year.

“Big Medium strives to provide opportunities for artists to create, exhibit, and discuss their work,” Gentry said. “During EAST all three coexist. We want to facilitate an inclusive cultural dialogue between artists and their communities in unique and intimate spaces.”

She explained that EAST began in 2003 with just 28 artists, but has grown exponentially. “In 2018, we have a record 585 artist studios, exhibitions, and art events,” she says.

I asked Gentry for her tips for how first-time folks can get the most out of EAST.

“The starting point of the tour is the EAST Group Exhibition, so I’d recommend beginning there,” she says. “Over 400 artworks by EAST artists are on display in this one location, so it allows you to get a good sense of your favorite artists and plan your tour.”

The Group Exhibition will be at Springdale General (1023 Springdale Road), and will be open during EAST weekends from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and additionally November 9 and 13-16, from noon to 6 p.m. Gentry notes that you can pick up catalogs and maps at the Group Exhibition, and it’s a good chance to ask friendly Big Medium staffers your  questions about EAST.

To me, the trick to enjoying EAST is to decide what your goal is, and then use the free tools listed below to make a game plan ahead of time. Here are some goals and strategies:

GOAL: I want to see as much of EAST as I possibly can.

STRATEGY: Decide how many of the festival’s four days that you will tour EAST.

For each of day, choose one section of town, and map out several EAST venues to visit that are near each other. If you’re going to attend all four days, try doing one city quadrant per day (e.g., northwest Austin the first Saturday, northeast Austin the following day, and for the second weekend, tackle southeast and southwest Austin).

That’s a lot of art-hopping. To keep up your strength (and your smile), I recommend planning lots of breaks. A festival like EAST that takes you all over town presents a great opportunity to discover new-to-you places for coffee, lunch, or dinner. Use Yelp! (or something like it) to make planning easier.

GOAL 2: There’s a particular kind of art, or specific artists, I want to focus on.

STRATEGY 2: Use the map and other guides below to select choose artists and the venues that look the most interesting to you. Plan your route, which of course may take you all over town in the course of a single day. You might try starting at the farthest venue from home, and working your way back. Again, pick a new restaurant or coffee shop to try out on your trek, to give yourself a nice long break.

NO MATTER WHAT STRATEGY YOU CHOOSE, get yourself the app, the map, or the printed catalog (or all three):

The new, free EAST app is available from Apple’s App Store or Google Play. It has an interactive map of all venues, and is searchable by artist and medium (painting, sculpture, etc.).

You can pick up a detailed printed map to all EAST venues at any Austin Public Library branch, or download a PDF (though it’s tricky to print a usable copy).

I highly recommend getting a copy of the free, 264-page printed catalog. This book is great for pouring over and planning your strategy (and I personally like to hang onto it after EAST is over; it is just a handy guide to artists in Austin). As Gentry mentioned, the catalog is available at the Group Exhibition. You can also get one at Big Medium’s gallery (916 Springdale Road). Easiest of all, you can download the catalog and page through it on your tablet or computer.

No matter how much time you have to spend navigating EAST, the main thing is to have fun.

“EAST is unlike any other art event and requires curiosity, dedication, vulnerability, and a little bit of daring,” Gentry advises, “so don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in new experiences.”

Published by Rebecca Johnson

Writer and editor covering arts and culture in Austin, Texas and beyond.

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