In 2012 Thoughtbarn won a commission from Art in Public Places to design the first “artist-led" community garden in Austin. The garden is located at a new YMCA on city-owned land in a north Austin neighborhood. The project investigates how public art can support and amplify the diverse goals of community gardening – including to bring people together, provide nutritious locally-grown produce and engender stewardship.
The 25000sf garden is laid out in a radial site plan, with a gathering hub under a shady Arizona Ash at its center. Each slice of the ‘pie’ contains a different program – a wheelchair accessible area, raised beds for individual members, teaching plots, an orchard and composting area. A ‘public spine’ allows for anybody to enjoy the demonstration and gathering areas, while member beds are enclosed by a colorful sculptural fence. A hybrid toolshed and shade structure marks the entry to the garden and acts as a beacon from the adjacent parking lot. The budget allowed for the construction of a first phase of 10000sf, with all 50 plots being snapped up on the day registration opened in March 2014.
Thoughtbarn developed the design of the garden in collaboration with numerous strategic partners, including the YMCA of Austin, Art in Public Places, Sustainable Food Center, John Hart Asher of the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and the City’s Sustainable Urban Agriculture Department. A community-led Garden Leadership Group was instrumental in developing the all-important ‘social infrastructure’, such as the by-laws, site rules and membership system. During construction, over 100 volunteers assisted in the building of the fence and garden beds, including an enthusiastic group of Girl Scouts who also contributed a ‘Little Free Library’ to house gardening books for members.
Local filmmakers Flow Non-Fiction made a short documentary about the project that can be seen here. The project also won a 2015 Architects Newspaper 'Best of Landscape' Award, was a 2014 SXSW Places By Design Finalist and was published in the May 2015 issue of Texas Architect.
“Working with Thoughtbarn on Austin’s first artist-designed community garden was an absolute pleasure and a highlight of my career. The success of the project was largely dependent upon seamless coordination with YMCA staff and community stakeholders and Lucy and Robert could not have done a better job. Their inclusive process and thoughtful design created an award-winning project that has become the pride of the community and will provide sustenance for generations to come.” Carrie Brown, Public Art Curator, San Antonio River Authority (formerly Project Manager for City of Austin Art in Public Places)