KUT | By Corey Smith / Published April 17, 2023 at 2:45 PM CDT
The “Hi, How Are You” mural at 21st and Guadalupe streets remains standing, despite the building around it lying in rubble.
American Campus Communities bought the Goodall Wooten building in July 2018, announcing plans to turn it into new student housing with retail shops on the ground floor. The company said it is committed to preserving the Austin landmark and integrating the free-standing wall into the redevelopment.
The building housed a record store called Sound Exchange when artist and musician Daniel Johnston painted the mural in 1993. The piece features an antenna-eyed frog known as Jeremiah the Innocent under the words “Hi, How Are You” and pays homage to Johnston’s album of a decade earlier. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was photographed wearing a T-shirt with the image in the early ’90s, giving the piece a significance beyond the artwork itself.
“The mural is not just a visual landmark, but also a question on the mental health of everyone,” said Kenzo Revilla, founder and president of the Austin-based Street Art Muralist Organization.
“‘Hi, How Are You?’ implores us to ask how people really are, how they’re doing,” he said.
Throughout his career, Johnston’s art was “informed to some degree by his ongoing struggle with manic depression,” according to his website.
The director of operations and events for the Hi, How Are You Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to removing “the stigma around mental health, one conversation at a time,” said the mural is an irreplaceable part of the city’s fabric.
“It’s preserving Daniel’s legacy, which is hugely important. And it’s also, for older Austinites, a bigger legacy of where Sound Exchange was,” David Lobel said. “The Drag has changed dramatically, but if there’s one piece that’s still there, it’s Jeremiah.”
Lobel called American Campus an ideal partner in preserving the mural.
“I know they consulted architects and contractors to make sure when they took everything down that the mural would still be standing, and then incorporated into whatever comes next,” Lobel said. “We couldn’t really ask for more, they’ve been amazing partners in general.”
In a statement last month, Gina Cowart, American Campus Communities’ senior vice president and a Hi, How Are You Project board member, said the company was proud to preserve this “nationally recognized and quintessential piece of Austin.”
“This is so much more than a mural as it’s sparked a movement for mental wellness,” she said.