City comes together to ‘Keep Austin Weird’

Syeda Hasan

A crowd of hippies, hula dancers and Dr. Seuss characters braved the heat to celebrate weirdness Saturday afternoon.

Thousands of Austinites, some donning elaborate costumes, filled the lawn of the Long Center for Performing Arts to support local vendors, artists and musicians at the ninth annual Keep Austin Weird Festival and 5K, which raised money for the Austin Parks Foundation.

Michelle Graham, owner of the company that organized the festival, said Outhouse Designs trademarked the phrase ‘Keep Austin Weird’ several years ago and spurred the movement to preserve the city’s individuality by supporting local businesses.

“The phrase was just made as an offhand comment to a radio disc jockey more than a decade ago,” Graham said. “They decided to have a party to celebrate that theme, and the festival has been going on ever since.”

Graham said she is not sure how the tradition of wearing costumes during the 5K began, but she always enjoys seeing the level of creativity runners put into designing them.

“It probably just made sense to a lot of people,” Graham said. “What could be weirder than throwing on a costume in the middle of the summer and running a 5K?”

Austin residents Zoe Blitz and Veronica Slaughter raced dressed as zombie joggers from the 1980s, their costumes complete with fake blood, artificial limbs and teased side ponytails.

“We’re supporting Keep Austin Weird because we love Austin, and we love weird things,” Slaughter said. “You have to stimulate the local economy because you can’t find certain things in bigger businesses that you can in the smaller, more intimate local places.”

Liz Potter, handbag designer for Bolsa Bonita and Austin resident for 23 years, showcased her handmade designs at a festival booth. She said supporting local businesses helps keep the culture alive that people have come to love about the city.
“It is good for Austin’s economy, but I also just think it’s good for the soul,” Potter said. “It just feels good to buy from local people, especially if it’s handcrafted, because it gets people away from buying things that they just see as disposable. It’s consumerism but in a healthier way.”

Paper mosaic artist Barbara Hernandez moved to Austin from New York 15 years ago and said Austin’s friendly and diverse environment has allowed her art to thrive. Hernandez hosted a booth at the festival for the first time this year.

“Times are rough, and to me creativity and art are the values that are important, and they’re not getting enough attention in this country,” Hernandez said. “When I see children here it encourages me tremendously that they can grow up in an atmosphere like this.”

T-shirt vendor Cudjoe Exah has taken part in several local festivals and said buying local gives people a sense of authentic Austin culture.

“I think Austin is one of the best cities in the world, not only Texas, when it comes to people,” Exah said.