Lisa Austin grew up in a large military family on the move around the United States. After high school in Alaska, Austin studied at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Maryland. She later earned a BFA at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia and an MFA at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. In 1996, Austin moved to Erie, Pennsylvania to accept a position in Edinboro University's Art Department. She teaches there still.
After many years of making installation work in galleries, Austin co-founded the CIVITAS Erie collaborative in 2004 to "undertake aesthetic and functional interventions in public space" in Erie.
Through CIVITAS, Austin began community collaborations and initiated the creation of several organizations. She established the SAM & ED "think tank" that met at the Plymouth Tavern from 2005-2007 to discuss "science, art, manufacturing and engineering (and) design."
In 2005 and 2006, Austin invited leaders and thinkers to her living room to discuss Erie's rampant bull-dozing of historic properties, the need for a city planner, and the creation of a demolition review board. In 2007, she co-founded Preservation Erie with a mission to advocate for adaptive reuse & sustainable urban design. She co-founded All Aboard Erie in 2009 to lobby for improved bus and rail service and regional connectivity.
Austin co-founded Innovation Erie in 2008 to foster economic development through a product design competition held at the Erie Art Museum. She instituted the Made in Erie Marketplace in 2013 to offer entrepreneurial support to local makers. Austin and Penn State's Greg Dillion established the Made in Erie Design Lab at the Blasco Library in 2015 to provide product design education to catalyze Erie's manufacturing industries.
Austin served on the City of Erie's Zoning Hearing Board for eight years. With Adam Trott and others, Austin co-founded ErieCPR in 2016 to protect a key pedestrian and bike artery - the McBride Viaduct on East Ave.
Austin is the author and co-author of three-dozen "Considering the City" columns published in the ErieReader from 2014 - 2016 on topics ranging from blight, walkable neighborhoods, economic development and the arts economy. Also from 2014 - 2016, Austin co-hosted the Preservation Happy Hour at the the Plymouth Tavern to offer a casual venue to discuss city planning, transit and economic development.
In 2013 Austin was invited to run for Erie County Council. She accepted, ran, and lost, but realized her advocacy for Erie could be more effective as Mayor. She ran in 2017, and lost again. However, the ideas Austin championed through CIVITAS and during her campaigns have become more accepted. In fact, many CIVITAS proposals are now embedded in Erie County's Emerge 2040 plan, the City's Erie Refocused plan, the Our West Bayfront plan, as well as in the platforms of the remaining mayoral candidates - all good news for Erie.