AUSTIN (KXAN) — Three new art installations in east Austin are honoring the legacy of a prominent black educator who advocated for children’s access to education during the Jim Crow era.
Friendly Rice first moved to Austin in 1931 to serve as assistant principal at what was then Gregory Elementary School, later renamed Blackshear Elementary School in 1936. His move to Austin came just three years after the city passed its 1928 Master Plan, a land code that encouraged racist, pro-segregation practices through the creation of a “Negro Quarter.”
Rice became the supervising principal at Blackshear a few years after his arrival, serving in that position until his retirement in 1972. During his tenure, he helped establish one of the first school libraries in an African American school in the Southwest, established a hot lunch program for students at schools within the district and created an outdoor garden in Blackshear, according to city documents.
Now Austin’s Department of Transportation and the nonprofit Creative Action have collaborated on three art boxes in his memory, or reimagined traffic light cabinets that display community artwork. The art displays are located at the intersections of Airport Boulevard and Goodwin Avenue, Airport Boulevard and Oak Springs Drive, and Airport Boulevard and 12th Street.
These latest installations are part of the Austin Department of Transportation’s artbox program, an initiative that reimagines traffic light boxes as works of art that reflect the cultural experience of the neighborhoods in which they are located. The program first launched in 2020 and has since expanded to 27 completed art boxes, with a projected 20 to 30 more on deck over the next two years.
“A lot of the neighborhoods have changed,” said Sandra Campbell, project coordinator in ATD’s Office of Intelligent Mobility. “And you may often see a lot of new people in the neighborhoods, but [the artboxes] show the history of the formation of the neighborhood.
The program reaches out to community members and partner arts organizations to discover neighborhood interests and consider any leaders or historians who might be good subjects.
“In the case of Friendly Rice, the arts partners, Creative Action, they went out and actually talked to the community, the historians and a couple of community leaders and found out that their interest was in Friendly Rice,” she said. “So that was their theme that was chosen for these latest artworks.”
Two artbox locations are currently in development: one at 3rd Street and Guadalupe Street and another at 17th Street and Guadalupe Street. Those interested in sponsoring artbox can do so via online application.