Aug 4, 2022

The Power of Community: An Interview with Raasin McIntosh

by: Ilse García Romero

The Mural Arts Institute’s Arts and Environmental Justice Symposium is coming back this September with a hybrid program where partner sites in Austin, Texas, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Kern County, California, will present the programs that they have been working on through the Arts and Environmental Justice Capacity Building Initiative.

In advance of the symposium, we would like to introduce you to some of the key players at these partner sites, beginning with Raasin McIntosh, Founder and Executive Director of Raasin in the Sun. Based in Austin, Texas, this organization has developed the mission to cultivate “resilience through cultural and environmental activities” in East Austin. Vital to Raasin’s work is the awareness of East Austin’s history of slavery and redlining.

“I’m not proud of the history of Austin; it can be very ugly and very hateful,” says Raasin. “It’s important to understand in looking at our history it has a lot to do with enslavement. It stems back to even before the 1800s when the city was occupied by white men and white families that had Indigenous and slave workers.”

According to a City of Austin document, in 1917, the Supreme Court ruled zoning laws that segregated people were illegal.  The “1928 Master Plan” was written by outside consultants Koch and Fowler and funded by the City of Austin to define a citywide land use blueprint. Austin City Council, which was all-white and all-male at that time, adopted this plan to move Austin’s negroes to one area of the city to save money and legally segregate the races. The 1928 Master Plan evolved into the effective and real segregation of Blacks and Hispanics in East Austin, which continues to affect Austin to this day. The 94th anniversary of Austin’s historic 1928 Master Plan was observed in March of this year.

Photo by Leta Harrison.

Raasin cited dumping and other environmental injustices, infrastructure issues, lack of job opportunities, and lack of school funding as some of the direct results of the 1928 Master Plan. “This [plan] was intentional, so we want to be intentional with our work so that we can tell the story and the nuances, reverse the things that are happening and educate others on what the environment should look like,” explains Raasin.

One of the biggest takeaways of the work that Raasin in the Sun does is understanding that the power comes from the unification of different cultures and communities working towards a bigger goal. In particular, environmental injustice isn’t something that only affects one community, so it makes sense to work together to address it. According to Mural Arts’ Environmental Justice department, “Climate change affects all of us,
but not equally. Low-income communities of color are the most vulnerable to the risks—including flooding, heatwaves, and food insecurity—even though they are the least responsible for their causes.”

Photo by Leta Harrison.

For this reason, Raasin leads her artistic work with culture first and frames all of her work through the lens of community. Knowing that there are whole communities that have been historically silenced and are now finding their voice, Raasin wants to create a platform for those stories to be told. “We choose projects that tie into our mission to understand BIPOC communities and people who have been marginalized, and give them the opportunity to heal and be involved,” says Raasin.

Raasin’s work of cultural restoration is rooted in community work, something that Mural Arts Director of Staff Muralists & Mural Training Instructor Dave McShane is also trying to implement more in Austin. “Austin has embraced street art more than Philadelphia,” McShane explains, “but currently they have a culture of independent artists, and less community work.”

Photo by Leta Harrison.

It was so exciting for Dave to bring what he has learned as an artist in Philadelphia and working with Mural Arts to Austin, and show other artists the possibilities of collaboration. “Raasin has been putting together opportunities for artists in different capacities and has done some interesting projects,” says Dave. “I think what this allows her to do is think wider and gain confidence in taking on bigger and bolder things.”

Using the model of Mural Arts Philadelphia to develop of new murals that engage the community they are in, Raasin and Dave have been able to pass on knowledge and support a new generation of artists in Austin.

"You can do it too! It just takes creating a process and timeline and sticking to it."

- Dave McShane

Photo by Leta Harrison.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of being part of the Arts and Environmental Justice Capacity Building Initiative is the connections that Raasin has made with the other partner sites. “It was a true blessing to be in the cohort with Santa Fe and Kern County,” she says. “Both stories and the work they do in their communities are beyond inspirational.”

Hear more from Raasin and the other partners in Santa Fe and Kern County this September at the Mural Arts Institute’s Arts and Environmental Justice Capacity Building Initiative!

Along with the other partners, Raasin will be presenting a minidocumentary on Tuesday, September 14, 2022, at 1:45 pm EST at the Free Library. These documentaries outline their collaborative, participatory arts-based processes to address local environmental justice issues in their communities and how those moved the needle.

Additionally, Raasin will join a panel discussion on Wednesday, September 21, 2022, at 11:30 am – 12:30 pm CST / 12:30 -1:30 pm EST. A Legacy of Work: Generational Environmental Art and Activism in East Austin will discuss the issues of environmental racism and systemic injustices over the last 30 years in East Austin and the legacy of P.O.D.E.R.

To learn more about the Arts and Environmental Justice Symposium and view the agenda, click here.

Last updated: Aug 4, 2022

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Rosanna Esparza says

Super excellent snippet of Raisin and community art/enviro justice work. Uplifting and positive. Thank you for the highlights.