Throughout her career, Andi Scull has taken risks and pivoted industries in pursuit of a message of unity and change.
By Jenny Hoff, Photos by Daniel Nguyen, Hair and makeup by Brandi Cowley, Shot on Location at Native Hostel
Hope is the defining word of Andi Scull’s career. But, like any good artist, she gave it her own flair, transforming the simple four-letter word into a life-giving acronym. Before hope became the central slogan of former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, Scull made it a movement—encouraging people across the globe to not just want something to happen, but to make it happen by Helping Other People Everywhere.
A light-bulb moment in 2006 transformed Scull’s career, ultimately leading her to establish one of Austin’s most beloved tourist spots: HOPE Outdoor Gallery. After its 2019 closure, Scull is relaunching the street-art destination this year. The new graffiti park realizes Scull’s dream of creating an art space the public can enjoy while also prominently displaying Austin’s art scene to visitors.
The new gallery, a nine-year labor of love slated to open near the airport by the end of 2020, will consist of a structure spelling out the word hope, making Scull’s message visible from the sky, sending a resounding message to everyone flying into Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA).
“Every person who is involved believes this is a historic art park that we’re creating,” Scull says. “It will be a spot where our families can always go in the future. I think that a lot of cities would benefit from showcasing their cultural fabric. This is why people travel.”
Scull’s life story is not unlike the street art she has helped champion. Her life experiences and career opportunities may seem abstract but, upon closer observation, the individual moments intertwine. She hasn’t depended on good fortune to make her visions a reality; rather, she has carefully planned and pursued her creative instincts courageously.
“I always say that I’m half Asian, half artist,” she says, with a laugh. “I have to have spreadsheets open while I’m designing something in Photoshop. It’s just the way I grew up.”
Scull credits her upbringing for her unique ability to forge connections and partnerships with people from every walk of life—as well as the courage to make big ideas come to fruition. Scull grew up in Oklahoma, but regularly visited Singapore, her Chinese mother’s home. Straddling both cultures opened Scull’s eyes to the bold colors, tastes and designs of the world, as well as different cultural expectations for children.
“Being raised as the eldest Chinese child by a single working mom in Oklahoma definitely came with its own set of pressures,” Scull says. “I was expected to be good in school; top grades were not rewarded, they were expected.”
Scull learned at a young age that ambition isn’t enough. Hard work, long hours and the willingness to fail, while simultaneously fighting against failure, are crucial to success.
“When Andi gets an idea, she is brave enough to get it started, and what tends to happen is others find out about it and it gets stronger. But it starts with a spark, and Andi has always been that spark,” says her brother and business partner Chris Scull. “In high school, she was tired of seeing trash bundled with recyclable goods, so she started a recycling program. It’s still going on to this day.”
That kind of determination led Andi Scull to go against her mother’s wishes and pursue a career in art, forgoing an offer from the U.S. Military Academy and an athletic scholarship. She moved to Austin to enroll in an advertising and art director degree program at the University of Texas. It proved to be a smart move. Within a month of graduation, she was helping create the iconic “Don’t mess with Texas” campaign with EnviroMedia, quickly establishing a name for herself in the world of design and marketing.
While visiting family to celebrate New Year’s in 1999 in Nairobi, Kenya, she had a revelation that it was time to take a new direction.
“I was 24 and in the Chinese zodiac every 12th year is a golden year,” Andi Scull says. “I went back and quit my job. I decided to wait tables, do flower arrangements and start my own freelance business, Scullpower Creative.”
Leaving her job at an influential media company without a set plan in place could be seen as backwards career move, but Andi Scull saw it as an incredible opportunity to create impact and do something more purposeful than simply earn a paycheck.
“Andi is resilient and consistent,” says musician and longtime friend Chrysta Bell. “She has the quality of water that way; she is in tune with the flow of things and does not and will not force something that is clearly not working. Her ability to find solutions under pressure is uncanny.”
Andi Scull’s hunch to leave a booming industry and strike out on her own proved wise and she pivoted again, joining the film industry to work on movies like Idiocracy and The Ringer. Hobnobbing with the who’s who of Austin sparked another idea that would cement her place in the creative world.
“I’m walking into this mansion to another one of these fancy parties and I saw that the mansion was for sale,” Andi Scull recalls. “I go in and it was my buddy’s house. I looked at him and I asked, ‘Would you let me throw an art show here?’ We got to showcase art and they got to showcase their property; it was a win-win.”
Andi Scull capitalized on her idea, launching Burn the Box Movement. Her latest endeavor became a bastion of the more sophisticated Austin party scene in the mid-2000s, bringing the city’s various creatives together in one place. “The way she did it was absolute genius,” Bell says. “She would find high-end and architecturally or culturally compelling real estate that was available to rent or buy but was currently empty and, in the space, she would organize the showcasing of various artists during the event. Andi brought in painters, sculptors, mixed-media artists, and invited DJs and musicians to take part in the festivities. Then she would find sponsors for drinks, and often chefs and restaurants who would take part, effectively transforming the place into a gallery, a music venue, pop-up restaurant and community-integration endeavor, and it was fabulously successful and highly effective for all involved.”
Andi Scull eventually brought her events to Los Angeles, where her brother was also working in film production. Andi Scull and Bell’s apartment became a crash pad for artists, and the two decided to rent out a room for only $300 to a deserving creative who needed a place to stay.
Their first tenant was former Marine Corps Capt. Brian Steidle, author of the book The Devil Came on Horseback, which recounts the genocide in Sudan and led to an award-winning documentary about the crisis. When Andi Scull attended his film screening, she once again had the gut feeling she needed to make a move.
With Steidle by her side, she took a fateful trip down trip down Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, California to meet with Kobe Bryant’s ad agency.
“On the drive I kept seeing the word ‘hope’ and I turned to Brian and said, ‘It stands for helping other people everywhere,’” she says.
Through Bryant’s team, she met internationally acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey, which sparked a long business partnership. Together, they worked on a campaign that resulted in the message of hope on t-shirts in every Urban Outfitters in the country and on the backs of celebrities and athletes.
That’s when Andi Scull got a call from a friend working on the presidential campaign of then Sen. Barack Obama. The campaign noticed how she helped make one of the buzzwords of his campaign a national movement. Fairey went on to create the iconic poster of Obama’s face underscored by the word hope, which became the symbol of his presidential run.
Andi Scull eventually made her way back to Austin as CEO and founder of HOPE Events, a nonprofit with the mission of mobilizing artists to advocate for social movements. Its many branches include Hops for HOPE Annual Art Show and HOPE Outdoor Gallery.
Andi Scull’s vision that had once led to a union of Austin’s artists and film celebrities took on a much larger landscape after she visited Castle Hill in 2010, a dilapidated lot perched above the city known for its graffiti art in Central Austin. Scull saw beauty and potential where others would only see blight. She created an official space for street artists to showcase their work, network with other artists, teach classes and sharpen their skills. HOPE Outdoor Gallery became one of Austin’s top tourist attractions with the gallery’s inaugural installation by none other than Fairey.
After the Castle Hill property was sold to a new developer, Scull and her team secured a 17-acre lot for a reinvented gallery.
“She is reclaiming areas that have been destitute and forgotten and [creating] a creative hub,” says Antonio Madrid, co-founder of the new gallery and co-owner of Native Hostel. “She cares a lot about the world she lives in and wants to not only find inspiration in it, but also provide inspiration for others.”
The new gallery will showcase local art, offer event space and provide retail opportunities. The launch in 2020 will kick off with a global-citizen festival to open people’s eyes to the world beyond their immediate surroundings.
“I grew up in a small town that didn’t have a lot of art or art education,” says HOPE Campaign Director Liz Whittington. “I think the one thing that is happening is that art is becoming more democratized. It’s becoming more accessible and places like this show you can paint at all ages; you can see there is something there for everyone.”
Andi Scull’s latest masterpiece is still a work in progress but when it’s complete, every passenger landing at ABIA will receive a visible reminder that together, we can create beauty anywhere and help other people everywhere.
What’s been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome when bringing your ideas to life?
“Financing. It’s the same for any entrepreneur. It’s hard to raise capital. Just understanding that…can be very empowering. It can add to that drive.”
What advice would you give other creatives just starting out?
“Having ideas doesn’t necessarily lead to implementation. It takes a lot of courage to try something when you don’t have a family grant or safety net. Have the courage to try, while knowing you can fail. That is really the only way to achieve what you truly want to do.”
What kind of impact would you like the new HOPE outdoor gallery to have?
“[I want] people to realize that culture is a business; it’s not a charity. It can be one of the biggest assets and benefits to a city. Over the nine years we operated at our previous location, it was one of the top tourist destinations in the city; there were busloads of foreign visitors. With our new location being across from the airport, our goal is to make it the unofficial pick-up and drop-off spot to the city.”
Jumpsuit available at Estilo, 2727 Exposition Blvd., estiloboutique.com; jewelry by Bulletgirl, bulletgirl.com; artist drawing glove, model’s own.
Pants, top, boots and jewelry (except for bracelet) available at Estilo, 2727 Exposition Blvd., estiloboutique.com; bracelet by Bulletgirl, bulletgirl.com; coat by Midi Soliz, instagram.com/midiskirt; artist drawing glove, model’s own.
Pants, top and gold necklace available at Estilo, 2727 Exposition Blvd., estiloboutique.com; pearl necklace by Bulletgirl, bulletgirl.com; Adidas sneakers and artist drawing glove, model’s own.
Native Hostel is an experiential hostel offering a kinetic collision of music, arts, warm beds, sleepless nights and crafted spirits. Envisioned as an incubator for thinkers, makers and creatives, Native aims to break the mold of hospitality by curating a culture of accessible yet noteworthy travel. Boasting handcrafted design and full-service hospitality, Native offers a distinctive Austin experience for global travelers and local escapists alike. Think of it as a living room for creatives, where ideas and imagination can be shared alongside coffee, comfort and cocktails. nativehostels.com