Recently featured in the Austin Statesman, the What Once Was (WOW) team made up of—e4Youth, Six Square, and Froliq—teamed up to look at Austin pre-gentrification; to show what this region looked like 20, ten, even three years ago. Back before many transplants set foot in Austin, back when East Austin specifically looked much different. As areas of Austin have become gentrified, some BIPOC businesses and neighborhoods have all but disappeared, leading to a question; how can you honor the past, yet promote the present?


Harper Biewen on importance of WOW



Harper Biewen, an Austin-based multidisciplinary artist and art director at independent, integrated ad agency The Many, thought she might have an answer. She partnered with local nonprofits Six Square, celebrating and preserving the great Black arts, culture and history of Central East Austin, and E4 Youth, utilizing the arts, sciences and technology to help underserved youth find and pursue pathways to successful careers in the creative economy, to create and launch What Once Was. 


Harper Biewen in the hallway separating the cafe from the stage at the historic Victory Grill


WOW, an immersive augmented reality (AR) experience, is activated by scanning a QR code, taking users on a visual time machine to see what once existed at their exact location, while also encouraging them to put their money into local, BIPOC-owned establishments to protect the culture and promote the community.

With Biewen leading the concept and design work, the team needed someone to make all the magic happen, and that’s when they called upon Froliq to bring WOW to life. Froliq creates engaging gamified experiences in the field of XR (virtual and augmented reality), and was able to build the technology to create the WOW experience.


Barrett Clark shares five sites featured on WOW



Froliq’s Director of AR/VR, Jorge Ortiz and XR Strategist, Rebekah Diaz, with the assistance of E4 student, Darnell Wilson, developed the AR experiences that let participants of WOW scan a QR code on their phone and get transported back to a different Austin. Ortiz, an Austin transplant himself, was excited to be able to bring such a vibrant, rich and historical part of Austin’s past back to life. “It’s very special to be able to honor the past and promote the present, and this project gave us the opportunity to do just that,” Ortiz said.


New construction omnipresent in East Austin


What Once Was is a great compliment to the Austin Digital Heritage Project” Carl Settles, founder, E4 Youth. “Many of the students we train and employ are in families that have been pushed out the city’s core and into the outlying areas of town that are more affordable. Our goal is to build a multi-generational community of practice that actively explores our history and invests in these students to build a more inclusive future.”


1. Victory Grill (outside) 2. Victory Grill (inside) 3. Victory Grill (WOW AR)


What Once Was is launching on March 12th during SXSW, with a special, free to the public event. The @WhatOnceWas Instagram profile will be regularly updated with hints on where to find new AR drops, full stories and features from the owners of small businesses that have gone out of business, spotlighting existing BIPOC-owned businesses that people can support, and information about organizations and mutual aid collectives that people can support to help make a difference. 




For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Bethany Ruhe

About Froliq

Born in Austin, Froilq is a creative studio that produces next-generation experiences for world-class brands. They are best known for their award-winning work in XR-AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality), including machine learning and artificial intelligence application development. Visit

About E4 Youth

Founded in 2009, E4 Youth is an Austin-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to helping thousands of underserved and BIPOC youth (ages 16-22) to Engage, Empower, Educate and Employ themselves. E4 Youth’s mission guides high school and college students into learning about pursuing creative careers through hands-on training, mentorship programs and exposure to real-world opportunities with dedicated community partners. For more information or to get involved, visit, and follow E4 Youth on Instagram and Facebook at @E4Youth.

About Six Square

Six Square – Austin’s Black Cultural District is the first Black cultural district in the state of Texas and the only cultural arts district in the city of Austin. Since inception, Six Square has been dedicated to improving the quality of life for African American residents through preservation of historic Black spaces, artistic cultivation, and by serving as a catalyst for social and economic development.