Meredith Powell is effusive when she talks about the impact of the arts in Austin. “I’m proud of the partnerships we’ve built in the creative community and the results of those partnerships,” she said.
Powell is at the helm of Art Alliance Austin, one of the city’s oldest arts organizations, that strives to empower the pursuit and appreciation of art through a wide range of community relationships and annual events. As a former top-notch volunteer for the organization, she worked her way up and applied for (and landed) the job of executive director at the age of 27.
“Getting to know the community and the artists has been amazing,” Powell said. “It’s been such a blessing to work with these people, many of whom have been involved for 20 years or more. For me, it’s important to make a positive impact on our quality of life.”
Through the hard work of Powell and her colleagues (she’s one of two full-time employees at the Alliance), the organization has laid a foundation to move forward in a comprehensive way with community partners such as Fusebox Festival, the Austin Museum of Art and the Texas Biennial.
“With Art Alliance, it hasn’t just been about one person,” Powell, a resident of Austin for 15 years, said. “It’s a team of people and a group of partners. People who are willing to come together and make change happen.”
Growing up along the Gulf Coast–doing stints in Galveston and Katy in Texas and Baton Rouge and New Orleans when she was younger–prompted Powell’s appreciation for diversity in all its forms. Whether she was attending racially integrated public schools in the Big Easy, traveling with her family at a young age to Europe, or enjoying the beach in ethnically diverse Galveston, Powell has always had gay or lesbian friends and colleagues.
“I remember, you know, fun times I’ve had with my gay friends,” Powell said. “My life was so integrated. I think growing up and living in alternative communities [was part of that].”
After graduating with her degree in advertising, she worked at the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau and volunteered for a few nonprofits but never thought she would stay in the Capital City. “I realized that I wanted to have control over the impact I was making,” she said, “and I wanted to make a positive impact.”
Powell said that for her, one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is working directly with artists and helping them produce their work. “What we’re finding is that Austin is creating this amazing new content,” Powell said. “Let’s be cool with the fact that Austin is the incubator of choice for this creative expression. Let’s own that.”
This year is a huge one for visual arts in Austin. Art Alliance Austin is commissioning Luke Jerram’s Play Me, I’m Yours, which will place 20 to 30 upright pianos at strategic locations throughout the city– further democratizing the arts by encouraging active participation from residents and feature performances from students, musicians, children and artists. AMOA’s New Art in Austin: 15 to Watch, focuses on emerging or lesser-known artists living within a 50-mile radius of the city; Art City Austin, a massive two-day festival on April 2-3 that takes over several city blocks and requires 800 volunteers to pull off, showcases a range of art for collectors and casual aficionados.
When she’s not balancing board relations, working the fundraising front or handling contract negotiations with artists, Powell stays energized by regularly plugging herself into arts initiatives in other cities across the country. Her enthusiasm is matched by her insistence that the Alliance’s small, grassroots size is ultimately a big plus.
“We couldn’t do any of our programs alone and they must be relevant for people,” she said. “When you think about that aspect, I like that [we have] two full- time staffers because we stay focused on programs that people want to be a part of. Fueling different perspectives is a key to our evolution.”