UT-Austin student art organization seeks to raise awareness for social justice issues

Gracyn Freiling

Rose Eichelmann always looked forward to art projects in elementary school. She grew up admiring her older sister’s professional artwork and tried to get her own hands on a paintbrush or marker any chance she could. 

For Eichelmann, a sustainability studies and geography junior, art has always been a favorite hobby but not something she wanted to pursue as a career. When she first came to UT, she said she struggled to find a community of artists that wanted to make a difference with their art. That changed when she discovered Texas Visual Arts Collective in September, a student organization focused on the “intersection of visual art and social justice,” according to its website

“It was an opportunity to get that motivation to work on my art and also be working toward social causes that I’m passionate about with like-minded people,” Eichelmann said.

The collective was co-founded by chemical engineering junior Vandana Seshadri and Jessica Nguyen, neuroscience and studio art sophomore, in July 2020 with the vision of cultivating a creative community for students of all backgrounds and majors that could also bring awareness to social justice issues. Karen Yang, a management information systems and business honors sophomore, was later added to the team as a membership director. 

“I don’t feel like I need to major in studio art to have an artistic community and connect to others here,” Yang said. “We want to be an inclusive, inviting space for everyone on campus, no matter who you are or where you come from.”

On April 21, the collective put on a pop-up art show on the West Mall where students could look at the members’ art, buy prints and originals and watch live spray paint art demonstrations. There was also a table where students could donate or take free art supplies as needed. The virtual 3D version of the art show is still available on their website.

The pop-up show raised $1700 for their chosen cause, Casa Marianella, a foundation that provides support services for displaced immigrants in Austin.

In honor of Casa Marianella, the collective chose the theme of the show to be “Where I’m Going / Where I’m From.” They encouraged the artists to think about what home means to them.

“I reflected on my childhood and the feelings that have carried with me today,” Eichelmann said. “So my piece titled ‘Coming Home’ was sort of a reflection of these emotions and memories that I have tied toward the concept.”

Eichelmann said she enjoyed seeing her peers’ art on display and sold some of her own work at the show.

“I love the idea of people having my art and (feeling) something through my art,” Eichelmann said. “For (the proceeds) to also be donated to a cause that I’m really passionate about, that was really fulfilling for me as well.”

Seshadri said she is proud of the show’s success for Casa Marianella and how TVAC has grown from just an idea to a community of about 80 members over the past year. 

“Having people tell me that they’re so glad they found the org is definitely one of the most rewarding parts of college and one of my (proudest) achievements,” Seshadri said.