Susan and Rob Burneson

Susan and Rob Burneson have created a video documentary titled A Community Mosaic to capture the history and thriving community spirit of two working-class neighborhoods in Austin: Brentwood and Crestview. Established more than fifty years ago as two of Austin’s first suburbs, today they are in the heart of the city. Brentwood and Crestview are undergoing transformation in the twenty-first century as the original residents age and move away or die. For younger families moving in, the documentary provides a historical perspective on their new home, with a strong emphasis on sustaining the community spirit of the former residents.

The Burnesons live in Crestview and participate in many facets of community life there. Their oral history documentary has roots in a 120-foot mosaic Wall of Welcome, created by artist Jean Graham to portray the neighborhood’s history. As long-time residents came by and shared their memories with the artist, the Burnesons realized the opportunity to collect more extensive stories from their older neighbors through video-recorded oral history interviews.

In their research in local libraries, the Burnesons discovered little documentation of the neighborhoods, but interviews with dozens of residents uncovered information on schools, churches, shopping centers, recreation areas, and landmarks. Among the interviewees was Bill Williamson, who in 1958 created the eight-foot star at the top of the Capitol rotunda in Austin.

The outcome of the interviews is a 22.5-minute video documentary. Interview clips mingle with other valuable information, including early maps, photographs, and home movies, woven together with present-day video and music. The video premiered in March 2008 at the dedication of the Wall of Welcome. Since then, the Burnesons have shown their work in a variety of community centers, churches, and other venues in the area. In October 2008, during a community art festival, they showed the video in a popular mid-twentieth-century drug store in Crestview. The Burnesons also donated copies of the documentary to the Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute Library, Baylor University Institute for Oral History, and local elementary, middle, and high schools. The interview recordings on DVD are available to researchers in the Austin History Center. Transcribing of the interviews is under way and the transcripts will be deposited in the Austin History Center as well. Excerpts from the transcripts were shared with the neighborhood through public readings at a community festival. Among the outcomes shared with neighbors was a fourteen-foot-long display featuring stories and photographs from residents, plus additional historical information about the area.

Beyond its value as a history of working-class people, the documentary, the Burnesons say, “reveals important truths for people of all ages: being a good neighbor and working to keep community spirit alive makes a neighborhood strong and a great place to live.”

TOHA will present the community history award to the Burnesons in Austin on Saturday, November 14, 2009, at a community event sponsored by the Violet Crown Community Works.