Heart to Art: Thao Votang and Brian Willey of Tiny Park (Part II)

Part two of my interview with Thao Votang and Brian Willey, owners of Tiny Park in Austin, TX. Find part one here. — Brian Fee, Austin contributor

Tiny Park's Greatest Hits grand opening at Navasota St, June 2012. Courtesy Tiny Park, Austin.

Brian Fee: You made the move to a commercial space less than a year after Tiny Park's debut. Were you actively looking for a space besides your apartment, and what did the process entail in finding the space?

Brian Willey: We originally thought we'd have shows at the house and then sometimes use outside spaces for bigger events, but we quickly realized it was going to be hard to find affordable alternate spaces and difficult to schedule in spaces we did not control. We knew we wanted a dedicated space, but we didn't think we'd move into one so quickly.

BF: When did you know this Navasota St space was “right”?

Thao Votang: We love this neighborhood. We're already building great relationships with our neighbors and are so happy to be there. The space has everything we were looking for: central location, interesting neighborhood, parking...! We looked casually for several months, but in general rents were too expensive. We were really just doing research on local commercial rent costs when we found the Navasota space. We liked the location and space so much that we jumped on it immediately.

Stephanie Serpick | Drawing 4, 2011, pencil on paper, 31” x 24”. Courtesy the artist and Tiny Park, Austin.

BF: You have featured a strong roster of local and national artists in just the past year: Deborah Stratman (2004 Whitney Biennial); Miguel Aragón (Austin Critics' Table Outstanding Artist award-winner); Leah Haney (solo museum exhibition at AMOA-Arthouse) — how do you select artists for Tiny Park?

Greatest Hits
installation view, with Miguel Aragón and Nick Brown, June 2012. Courtesy Tiny Park, Austin.

BW: Some of the artists we've shown are people I've known and respected for a long time, like Stratman, Nick Brown, and Sam Prekop. Others, like Aragón and Haney, are artists I consider to be among the strongest in Austin. The way I choose artists is very simple: I personally respond strongly to their work and believe the work deserves to be shown and has a unique voice. We are spending a lot of our own time and limited financial resources on Tiny Park, so we really have to love the people and art we promote. I saw Miguel Aragon's work at the AMOA “15 to Watch” exhibition (BF: New Art in Austin: 15 to Watch”) and immediately loved it – I bought a piece out of that show and then decided to put him in our inaugural exhibition. Actually, we owned work by almost all of the artists we've shown, before we showed them.

TV: We both keep an eye out for artists and projects. I am constantly reading blogs and news (my love for Twitter is endless. My pending posts on Google Reader are as well) to find new and exciting things we may consider.

Greatest Hits
installation view, with Dave Culpepper (foreground), Michael Sieben, Nick Brown, and Leah Haney, June 2012. Courtesy Tiny Park, Austin.

BF: Most of Tiny Park's exhibitions have been two-artist shows. Are you planning any solo artist shows in the new space?

BW: We do have solo shows planned already, for Anthony W. Garza (September) and Leah Haney (December). We'll also continue to work with many of the artists we've shown, so you can expect solo shows from some of them. We are also currently talking to artists that will be new for us, so hopefully we'll be able to share some exciting info about that soon!

Leah Haney | Space Jam, 2012, acrylic and found image on board, 48” x 30”. Courtesy the artist and Tiny Park, Austin.

BF: Thao, where did the red Christmas tree come from, branding the Tiny Park space? I see it made the move to Navasota St...

TV: The red Christmas tree was found on the side of a street in Travis Heights. I circled the block twice to make sure it was indeed abandoned and then shoved it into my backseat. Brian provided the lights, and here we are. It was a beacon to those who were trying to find our previous house location for the first time on our dark, out-of-the-way, neighborhood street. We quickly adopted it into our logo (designed by Kevin Ragthe) and created cookies to match. Our brand is something Brian and I talk about at length, so I am glad it is memorable. The tree will remain a familiar part of the commercial space, though it did get quite a dusting during remodeling.

Tiny Park's iconic red Christmas tree and tree-shaped cookies, which make frequent appearances at exhibition openings. Courtesy Tiny Park, Austin.

BF: What can we look forward to in the next year at Tiny Park?

TV: We would like to do a bit of everything! Readings, film screenings, one night events, Fusebox, and projects with Art Alliance. We'll be doing E.A.S.T.. We look forward to working with different arts organizations to bring together the "different" creative groups. And we'll of course have exhibitions with some of the artists we're already working with.

Miguel Aragón | Multiples en la Habitacion, 2011, burnt residue embossing, 24” x 32”. Courtesy the artist and Tiny Park, Austin.

BW: We're also in discussions with an independent filmmaker to organize some screenings, and working with an outside curator on a show with international artists. One of our goals is to be open to collaboration and unexpected opportunities. We'll have our own programming of exhibitions, screenings, readings and such, but we also want to have a network of creative collaborators who will bring things we would never have come up with on our own.

TV: Building a strong foundation through relationships with the community is a top priority. It will be great to see people really take part in an open conversation with us. We've already met so many ambitious and creative people, it's stunning. Now it's time to put all of our ideas and dreams together and do amazing things!!


Tiny Park's inaugural exhibition at its Navasota St space, Greatest Hits, continues through July 28. Check the gallery's Facebook page and follow its super-active Twitter account for special-event information.

Brian Fee is an art punk currently based in Austin, TX. His culture blog Fee's List covers his three loves (art, film, live music) occurring in his other three loves (the Lone Star State, the Big Apple, and Tokyo).

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