WHAT EXACTLY DOES THE PECAN STREET ASSOCIATION DO?
The Pecan Street Association (“PSA”) is a not-for-profit 501 (C)-4 group of volunteer business owners, professionals, artists and concerned citizens dedicated to advancing and preserving the integrity of the important, historic and unique area known as the Sixth Street Historic District. In order to meet these goals, proceeds from the activities of PSA, mainly the Pecan Street Festival, include beautification, education and other promotional activities. In addition, PSA supports the community through financial contributions to charities serving the Austin region.
During the 1960s and ’70s, downtown was scarcely populated, with abandoned buildings scattered about. A pioneering group of Austinites known as the Old Pecan Street Association was instrumental in reclaiming the downtown space and starting renovation of the old buildings, along with educating on its rich history prior to its downturn.
“The idea was to preserve the historical appeal of the street, while revitalizing the downtown area,” said Shannon Sedwick, vice president of the Pecan Street Association. The association wanted to uphold a sense of the buildings’ past and present, she said.
The association needed adequate funding for restoration costs and bringing a street fair to life was a solution to their problems. In 1978, the Pecan Street Festival was started and included local food and art vendors along with bands from the surrounding area, establishing a community event for cultural preservation and creativity. Due to the festival’s positive turnout, the celebration became a biannual spring and fall tradition, honoring 6th Street’s original name, Pecan Street.
The Pecan Street Merchants’ Association, a group of volunteer-based business owners, has always placed importance on free admission to the festival so that it is open to the Austin community and surrounding areas. The city of Austin has gone into partnership with the board to help sponsor the festival expenses.
“All of the money we make goes out to different projects on 6th Street and the downtown area,” Sedwick said. “We give to artists, homeless initiatives and youth programs, among others.”
The event is well-attended by people from all over Austin and Central Texas, generating an economic impact of over $40 million. It is the largest arts festival in Texas, and one of the largest arts and music festivals in the nation!
Meet Debbie Russell, Pecan Street Association Executive Director
Debbie Russell is a veteran community activist, having engaged in a broad array of coalition-building efforts on local and regional levels with a vast range of communities and on a variety of issue fronts. She has 28 years of experience under her belt as an administrator for small non-profits and local profit businesses.
Debbie also yields teaching experience with children pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, and at-risk youth and adults (ESL & job training). In addition to administering PSA, Debbie served as a board member for the Del Valle Independent School District Board of Trustees; she volunteers on behalf of the ACLU-TX, focusing on police accountability and open government; she was a key organizer for Austinites for Geographic Representation – the group that brought forth Austin’s new 10-1 council plan and was a member of the City of Austin ‘s Public Safety Task Force.
Debbie was selected Austin’s “Most Active Activist” in the Austin Chronicle’s “Best of 2005”; received the ACLU-TX “Outstanding Activist” award in 2009; and in 2010, she received the “Si Se Puede” award from PODER: People in Defense of the Earth and Her Resources, the “Activist of the Year” award from Texans for Accountable Government and a Spike Gillespie “Kick Ass Award.”