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Making Americans Think About Africa

    View of Making Africa : A C ontinent of C o ntemporary Design at the Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, October 14 , 2018 – January 6 , 2018

    The most comprehensive exhibition yet on contemporary design from Africa comes from Germany.

    “Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design” is co-produced by Germany’s Vitra Design Museum and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and now the show sprawls throughout the whole first floor of the Blanton Museum of Art, on view through Jan. 6.

    By showcasing 120 artists directly from the continent, the exhibition forges a timeline sorely missing from artistic scholarship. Its bold but already apparent claim is that Africa is abounding with innovation and inventiveness in design; it is home to a contemporary generation of problem solvers, history rewriters and hometown humanitarians who are using design creatively for the advancement of themselves and their communities. The goal of “Making Africa” — beyond this claim — is to assert that fact for Western audiences.

    The exhibition itself is a masterpiece of design. Several massive centerpieces and four central themes visually anchor the collective thought of the featured artists around the narratives they disrupt.

    Cyrus Kabiru’s “C-Stunners” are the first to be encountered at the gallery’s entrance, the name for his set of nonsensically crafted eyeglasses foraged from discarded plastics and metals. Affixed on stands at the viewer’s eye-level, the eyeglasses immediately signal the metaphorical stance one should assume through this exhibition — that of revisiting preconceived notions with an ascribed clarity.

    The curators have done much to provide the context needed to achieve that clarity. In the first segment of the show, entitled “Prologue,” video clips of interviews with African intellectuals pepper the walls surrounding Kabiru’s sculptures. In them, they discuss the trajectory for the future of Africa and how it is overcoming its colonial past.

    NLÉ Architects, Chicoco Radio Station, Port Harcourt, Nigeria, 2014, digital rendering © NLÉ Works Lagos/Amsterdam

    With the course set for an ethnographic telling of African design, the rest of the exhibition’s sections expand the criteria beyond deliberate individual pieces and include magazine covers, infographics, fashion, websites, viral videos, comic books, furniture, and more, all to get at the heart of the revolutionary trends that are setting off new waves of thought among African creatives.

    Visitors will leave this enormous show with lasting impressions of the big and memorable pieces, like Porky Hefer’s person-sized basket swing, “Humanest” and Tahir Carl Karmali, Dennis Muraguri, and Tonney Mugo’s “Jua Kali City”, a massive metal representation of an alternative economic structure in Kenya that resists formal capitalism or the Wakanda-esque visions of futuristic African cities in fashion house Ikire Jones’s 2013/2014 lookbook entitled “Africa 2081 A.D.”

    Tahir Karmali, Dennis Muraguri, Tonney Mugo. “Jua Kali City” (middle) in “Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design at the Blanton Museum of Art, the University of Texas at Austin, October 14, 2018 – January 6, 2018.

    More understated pieces can be overlooked in the rush of so many works on view at once, but they still have their impacts. The subtle brilliance of Leanie van der Vyver’s project “Scary Beautiful” comments on female beauty standards with a pair of impossible high-heeled shoes that restrict the wearer’s whole lower legs, seen in a painful-to-watch accompanying video. Works like “Scary Beautiful” point to the variety of problems challenged by this cadre of artists, this one especially linked to feminine identity.

    Fabrice Monteiro and MISWudé, Waxology, No. 1, 2014, Lambda C-print mounted on plexiglass, courtesy M.I.A. Gallery © Fabrice Monteiro

    From the beginning, “Making Africa” sets out to say that Africa is multitudinous; there is no single identity that can be forced into a stereotype of an entire continent. A wonderfully illustrative video piece featured in the “I & We” section, which focuses on cultural identity, reveals a breadth of subcultures in a matter of minutes. Essentially a compilation of YouTube videos uploaded by users from dozens of African cities, the participants sing along and dance to the inescapable 2014 hit song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. We American viewers see several things that contradict the popular image of Africa: African individuals, participating in a worldwide pop cultural moment, celebrating and presenting their communities for the world to see.

    Imiso Ceramics, Docks Table Black, 2013, ceramics, steel, and glass, edition of 5, 60 x 110 x 70 cm, courtesy Southern Guild and Imiso © Imiso Ceramics

    In a show that seeks so earnestly to encompass all of Africa, my art historian’s instinct tells me to look for the flaws. A prevailing trend in the art world since the 1990s (I’m thinking specifically of encyclopedic museums and international biennials) has been overly ambitious survey shows of non-Western art composed by Western curators.

    Several of these covering Africa have already been attempted, and rather than educate or elucidate the true conditions of the continent, they are better known for what they left out – political, social, economic contexts.

    “Making Africa” curator Amelie Klein of the Vitra Design Museum admits that Europeans undertaking the task of representing Africans is inherently flawed. Her counter-strategy was to first bring in an advising curator, Okwui Enwezor, a multi-talented Nigerian thinker who previously served as the Venice Bienniale’s first African-born curator.

    Secondly, Klein organized a board of curatorial advisors based in Africa as well as several think tanks of artists and influencers so that the show would accurately reflect their distinct voices.

    Ikiré Jones, The Madonna, 2014, from the collection The Untold Renaissance, silk-wool blend, 42 x 42 cm © Walé Oyéjidé

    Thinking cross-culturally about a topic as contemporary and universal as design teaches Westerners that design can be retrofitted to solve a vast array of real world problems. The prevailing though evolving view is that Africa is full of problems and that design can help solve those problems.

    In fact, design and progress have grown concurrently in Africa and projects range beyond the practical and political into the representational, whimsical, and even just-for-fun.

    Just because we Westerners are not aware of it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

    Pierre-Christophe Gam, Taali M, 2012, website ©Pierre-Christophe Gam

    “Artists Respond” panel to take up issues of place and displacement

    Cindy Elizabeth, "Up and Away," from the series "Black Flight," digit photograph. Copyright: Cindy Elizabeth.

    On Nov. 15, “Sightlines Spoken: Artist Respond —Considering Place and Culture” will feature artists and cultural leaders of color in a discussion on what it means in today’s Austin to have an artistic practice and what it means to preserve and activate culture.

    The public discussion is a collaborative program of the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center; Big Medium and Sightlines magazine, and is a part a wider discussion on the arts and gentrification. A previously scheduled event for Nov. 13 has been postponed and will be re-scheduled soon.

    The free event is at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina St.

    Moderated by artist/curator Michael Anthony García the panel features celebrated muralist  Fidencio Duran; mulitmedia artist and lifelong East Austinite Cindy Elizabeth; and Nefertitti Jackmon, executive director, Six Square Austin’s Black Cultural District

    Fidencio Duran

    Fidencio Duran. One panel of the five panel mural “The Role and History of Education in East Austin Neighborhoods
    Montopolis, Riverside, Govalle, Del Valle, El Centro” Acrylic on canvas, 6′ x 30′, 2011, Riverside Campus, Austin Community College, Austin, Texas.

    Fidencio Duran tells visual stories that honor the history of his family and community. He is inspired by stories his father told about immigrating from Mexico, living and working as a tenant farmer, and those that teach a moral lesson. Fidencio’s paintings, drawings, and prints based on memories of being part of a large family in rural Central Texas have been exhibited by institutions from the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago to the Smithsonian Latino Center/Fundación Osde in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

    His experiences as an Artist in Education with the Texas Commission on the Arts led to his work as a public muralist. One of his most prominent works, The Visit graces the length of the west ticket counter at Austin Bergstrom International Airport. The narrative works he started in his early twenties made him the only artist to receive all three Dallas Museum of Art’s Awards to Artists. His narratives have told the stories of many communities and regions. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

    Cindy Elizabeth

    Cindy Elizabeth, “Trumpets Blare,” from the series “Sundays in the Park,” digital photograph. Copyright: Cindy Elizabeth

    Cindy Elizabeth was born and raised in East Austin where she currently resides and makes art. She attended Baylor University, where she received her BBA in Human Resources Management in 2010. Photography has always been a passion of hers, a gift inherited from her late mother. Cindy Elizabeth’s work centers the Black experience, exploring the beauty and struggle and liberation in the stories of all African-Americans.

    “My goal is to show Black people in a way they are not shown elsewhere,” she says. “I think about what’s absent, what’s not seen. Who is it that culture gives grace and beauty to in this world?”

    Cindy Elizabeth, 31, remembers when she was in high school, in the mid-2000s, when she began to notice that the East Austin she had always known began to change. On their walk to the supermarket, she and her mother began noticing more white people walking in the neighborhood. And yet the newcomers never said a word.

    “They didn’t acknowledge us when we passed them, they didn’t say ‘hello’,” Cindy Elizabeth recalls. “It’s like we were completely invisible to them.”

    As the 2017 Artist-in-Residence at allgo, Cindy Elizabeth created “Eastside Stories,” a video docu-series exploring the lives and legacies of Black and brown Austinites who have called East Austin home and documenting the stories of these individuals by highlighting their day-to-day activities in a part of town with a constant-changing landscape as a result of gentrification and displacement. First in the series was a short documentary about Bettie Mann, the first Black teach at Austin’s Lee Elementary School.

    Cindy Elizabeth’s work has shown at Women & Their Work Gallery, The George Washington Carver Museum in Austin and she currently has work on permanent display at Russell Lee Elementary.

    Michael Anthony García

    Austin-based multidisciplinary artist and independent curator Michael Anthony García received his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art from Austin College in Sherman, Texas in 1996. Since then he has predominantly focused his practice around photography, sculpture, installation and  performance work, the bulk of which conveys the minutiae of fleeting moments of interaction between the body, the mind and our prowess (or missteps) in coping with the human condition.

    Most recently García’s work has expanded to include social practice work and more overly political themes.

    For his 2016 temporary public installation in Metz Park, “El Capacitor,” García created a  bright red podium surrounded by flagpoles bearing flags that made from neighborhood residents’ clothing.

     The title “El Capacitor” referred to the nearby decommissioned Holly Street Power Plant, which for half a century belched toxic fumes and leaked chemicals into Lady Bird Lake. Only after considerable community and citizen action did the Holly Street Power Plant close in 2007. Of course by then the surrounding neighborhood —for generations a predominantly Latino enclave — was already witnessing significant changes as gentrification drew a new demographic (including artists) to the downtown-adjacent area. For García, “El Capacitor” was a symbol of the community’s potential energy — a symbolic space created to inspire the neighborhood’s longtime residents to amplify their voice.

    García is a founding member of Los Outsiders curatorial collective and has curated large-scale exhibitions of international artists, both in U.S. and abroad. He has won awards both for his curatorial and his art work from the Austin Visual Arts Association and The Austin Critics Table.

    Neferitti Jackmon

    The organization Six Square is named for the six square miles of the former “Negro district” of Central East Austin, the created by the city’s 1928 Master plan, designed to segregate Austin by making the area the only part of the city where African Americans could access schools and other public services.

    Designated in 2012, Six Square is the first African-American cultural heritage district in the state of Texas.

    Nefertitti Jackmon moved from Houston in 2017 to take up the executive directorship of Six Square. She has more than two decades of experience working at community-based organizations which cultivate, preserve and promote African American culture, including Houston’s Emancipation Park Conservancy. Jackmon is also currently serving as the co-chair of the city of Austin’s Anti-Displacement Task Force.

    “We re-animate public space,” Jackmon says. “And we make space where African American people authentically create culture. We support artists and their work.”

    Six Square took on the stewardship of the recreation of a mural honoring African American at East Twelfth and Chicon streets by artist Chris Rogers. In 2017, Rogers’ previous mural had been painted over by new property owners, and after many community discussions and work, Rogers painted a new mural earlier this year.

    “The story of what’s taking place in Central East Austin in the African-American community is the same story that has happened in Black communities across the nation,” she has said


    Chaitali Sen: On Breaking Down the Borders In Your Mind

    Chaitali Sen

    Chaitali Sen is a writer and educator based in Austin, Texas. Her debut novel, “The Pathless Sky,” was published by Europa Editions in 2015. Short stories, reviews, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Brooklyn Magazine, Catapult, Chicago Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Ecotone, LitHub, Los Angeles Review of Books, New England Review, New Ohio Review, and many other publications. She is a graduate of the Hunter College MFA program in Fiction and founder of the live interview series, “Borderless: Conversations in Art, Action, and Justice.” She is at work on her second novel.

    I caught up with Sen over coffee earlier this month, and we talked about imaginary places, coming-of-age stories, and the importance of talking through discomfort.

    Sightlines: I read an interview that you did in the Rumpus, which referred to an essay you wrote in the Margins. In the essay, you write that you “felt a crippling pressure to write exclusively about my experience as a child of Indian immigrants.” How did you decide to set your first novel in a made-up place? Was it originally supposed to be a specific country? And did that relieve some of the pressure you felt when you were writing that essay?

    Chaitali Sen: I was in a phase where everything I was writing was set in a fictional country or an unnamed place. I don’t exactly know why that was. I think it was totally freeing. You know, because place and home, what you’re supposed to write about—it becomes so fraught sometimes, so unnecessarily fraught, and then you end up not writing and that feels awful. So, it was never meant to be set in a real place. It’s just that these characters came to life. If I had set it in a real place, I never would have written it.

    I told somebody recently I probably could’ve adjusted it to reflect real historical issues in a real place with different characters, but in that case, I felt like I would have been writing about characters I knew even less about. I decided to let my imagination go and make up a place, which was already sort of in my mind.

    S: I thought it was interesting, given that imaginary space in your first novel, that now you are working on this “Borderless” series, which in the name itself reflects an undefined space. It reminded me of a quote my friend posted last summer from the novelist Ursula K. Le Guin. She writes, “What is a love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry?” I thought she was talking about borders and how we try to put aside certain people and not empathize with them the same way we would with people in our own country.

    I was interested in hearing about how you started working on this series. What was the impetus and how has it evolved over time?

    CS: The impetus was a lot of what’s in that quote. I think that as a species we have to evolve beyond this need for borders. Right now, getting rid of borders is a lot in on our own head, because the reality isn’t that we can just get rid of them.

    But I think humanity is going to have to evolve beyond borders. So, some of it was thinking about actual political borders. But I was thinking about all kinds of borders. Borders between genres. For a while, it struck me that I know people in various spheres of life. And nobody knew what was going on in other spheres, even stuff that was overlapping. I love Elena Ferrante, and I read the whole “Neapolitan” series, and so many people who weren’t writers, even who are readers, hadn’t heard of her. And that kept happening, where I was like, “Everybody should know about this person and no one’s heard about them.” I realized that people don’t actually communicate on a wide number of things unless it’s really in the popular culture — like TV or movies.

    S: Which literary fiction so rarely makes it into.

    CS: So, part of it was that. And, actually in the first “Borderless,” someone asked why I had named it that, and the person who I was interviewing, Nikki Luellen, who is a spoken word poet, said, “It’s about breaking down the borders in your own mind. What’s possible, what you’re willing to consider, what you’re willing to listen to, what you’re willing to try.”

    And then a lot of it was the election and feeling like we needed more talking, not less. More talking to each other. Dealing with disagreement and discomfort, which I don’t think I’ve really pushed to the limit in my series yet.

    S: And given the rhetoric during this most recent election, the focus and obsession with borders and border walls, it seems like the need for that is not going away.

    On Nov. 16, you’re having your next installment of “Borderless” with writer and educator Jack Kaulfus. I’m interested in why you chose Jack, and what issues you’re looking forward to discussing?  

    CS: I actually heard Jack read a story a couple years ago at Malvern. They read a story that I enjoyed and which blew me away. There was a very contemporary, playful feel to their work. Their book, “Tomorrow or Forever,” came out over the summer. Jack is also an educator and I have an education background, so some of the things I’m looking forward to talking them about are short story structure and process, because I struggle with short stories, and also being a transgender writer and activist and teacher, especially in a climate like this.

    The other thing I want to talk about with them about is the importance of stories — particularly, coming-of-age stories — and how they help people see the humanity in others, and the importance of getting stories of all kinds of people out there.

    S: I know you lived in New York for a while, and I was wondering how you felt the transition from the New York writing community to Austin went. Was there anything that surprised you about the Austin writing community?

    CS: Well, it actually took me a long time to consider myself part of the writing community in New York. In New York, I was mostly a teacher, and I was involved in a South Asian women’s arts group, and I was also an activist. I wasn’t really out as a writer until I went to get my MFA, which was the last three or four years I was in NY. So, I sort of left New York right when I was meeting a lot of writers. It was time to leave. New York is a hard place to live. I was exhausted. But I miss a lot of the writing community, and the literary stimulation — that was hard to leave.

    When I got here, I wasn’t expecting to move to Austin. I met my husband, got married, and I was writing on my own until I happened to find out about novelist S. Kirk Walsh’s workshop. And then everything opened up for me. I met really great people.

    The great thing about Austin is that it’s still small enough that everybody knows each other. It’s all these really cool small degrees of separation. Something pretty amazing is happening in Austin with writing and I don’t exactly know what the factor is contributing to that. In New York, I was in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, but that’s one little tiny sliver of the literary scene. Here, you go to S. Kirk Walsh’s workshop and the whole literary scene opens up. So, that’s really nice about Austin.

    S: Can you tell us about the novel that you’re working on now?

    CS: Yeah, it’s a coming-of-age novel set in one year from ‘83 to ’84. It’s about a young Indian-American girl whose family is kind of falling apart and she has to live with some friends of her parents. And she has to navigate being in a house where she’s not really part of the family, and all the drama with her own family, and starting middle school. And then there’s lots of eighties music and the “Day After,” the movie about nuclear warfare that traumatized many of us. It was really fun to write. It’s set in Southeastern Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, right where I grew up.

    S: My last question is one that I always like to ask writers I meet. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten about writing?

    CS: This came from Helen Benedict, when I was taking a workshop with her in Paris. I was really struggling at that point. Everything I was writing was autobiographical but nothing was working. And she said, “If your characters are too much like you, then you’re locking yourself into a corner and you’re not going to be able to imagine what you need to imagine.”

    Then I went on a wild spree of writing about characters who were totally different from me. I started writing from the male point of view for the first time and just experimenting. That’s the thing that really helped me in an instant. It struck a nerve because it was at a time when I really needed to hear it.


    East Shifts: As Gentrification Continues to Change East Austin, So Shifts the East Austin Studio Tour

      East Austin Studio Tour, 2017 Photo by Andrew Reiner.

      The East Austin Studio Tour is arguably the city’s largest art event. Add up the number of participating artists, the scale of the audience over the two-weekend event and the geographic footprint of the self-guided free tour, and EAST’s magnitude becomes almost exponential.

      This year there’s 272 artist studios, 65 galleries, 194 temporary exhibitions, 44 happenings and ten public libraries that make up the 585 official EAST stops.

      Shea Little, executive director of Big Medium, the organization behind EAST, estimates that this year’s iteration will see an audience of approximately 15,000 — or maybe 20,000. It’s impossible to get an accurate count.

      But whatever the numbers, the event is a long way from when Little, Jana Swec and Joseph Phillips launched the first East Austin Studio Tour in 2003 with just 28 studios on a one-afternoon-long tour. At the time, the trio were among a growing wave of young artists of all disciplines moving into the then-affordable real estate of East Austin’s historically African American and Latinx neighborhoods, establishing art studios and warehouse theaters.

      Over the years Little and Big Medium have expanded the geographic footprint of EAST, pushing eastward, northward and even southward across the Colorado River/Lady Bird Lake as artists have staked out working or living spaces beyond central East Austin.

      By 2015, however, rising real estate prices in the rapidly gentrifying central East Austin area began to exert its pressure on artists and arts organizations. Several influential art studio complexes and warehouse theaters closed, sending the creative community into crisis mode.

      Austin’s majority white arts community now finds itself increasingly priced out of East Austin. Which makes for the great irony of the East Austin Studio tour: While the event has been a factor in accelerating the gentrification of East Austin, the creative community it promotes is threatened by that gentrification.

      Gentrification has had a corrosive effect on East Austin’s historically Black and Latinx communities.

      A study by University of Texas scholar Eric Tang found that between 2000 and 2010, East Austin’s Black population decreased by 66 percent, its Latino population decreased by 33 percent, and its white population increased by 442 percent. And in subsequent studies, Tang and his co-authors found that the economic pressures of gentrification were the primary reason longstanding residents of East Austin had left the neighborhood.

      By 2015, Austin was the least affordable of Texas’ four major cities, according to a report from Texas A&M. In East Austin, the median home price in January 2011 was just under $125,000. By December 2014, that number was nearly $350,000, a 180 percent increase.

      In their most recent research brief released in May of this year, Tang and his team found that in East Austin dogs now outnumber children nearly 2-to-1. And while a dog-dominant neighborhood doesn’t necessarily signify gentrification, a steady decrease in children does.

      Austin’s legacy of inequity

      For all of Austin’s popular reputation as a liberal and progressive place, the city has a deep legacy of discriminatory public policy that today makes it a city of profound racial and income segregation.

      When it was published in 2014 by UT’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, Tang’s study — “Outlier: The Case of Austin’s Declining African-American Population” — grabbed local headlines as the city seemed suddenly confronted by a part of its history it had ignored.

      Using U.S. Census data, Tang demonstrated that between 2000 and 2010, Austin was the only among the ten fast-growing major cities in the United States to show a decline in its African American population.

      And in “Outlier” and subsequent studies, Tang and his co-authors posited that African Americans did not choose to leave Austin so much as they were compelled to leave not just because of a lack affordability, but by historical and governmental forces as well.

      “Rosewood Park for Negroes, September 8, 1938.” Rosewood Park was established in 1929 as Austin’s first public open space set aside for African Americans, a result of the 1928 Koch & Fowler plan that institutionalized racial segregation in Austin. Photo credit: Ellison Photo Service, Austin. Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

      State-sanctioned segregation in the 1920s resettled Austin’s much of African American population into a designated district to the east of the city’s center.

      In 1928, Austin officials followed a city plan authored by Dallas consulting firm Koch & Fowler that recommended creating a “Negro District,” a six square mile area that was the only part of the city where African Americans could access schools and other public services.  The city refused to to run utilities, for example, to homes and businesses in the established Black communities of Central and and South Austin. By the mid-1930s, approximately 80 percent of the city’s Black population was compelled to relocate to the eastside.

      The 1928 plan also called for weaker zoning in the segregated district, allowing for the development of “objectionable industrial uses.” And later zoning changes in the 1950s permitted for an even greater area of East Austin to house noxious facilities such as bulk fuel storage tank storage and a power plant.

      Likewise, federal financial programs started in the 1930s redlined East Austin, making government-backed property loans unavailable for its residents, limiting the equity-building that comes from home ownership.

      By the 1990s and early 2000s, Austin’s economy and population surged. So did its downtown, promoted by city leaders who supported urban development. And that made the downtown-adjacent yet historically underinvested neighborhoods of East Austin prime for gentrification.

      Austin’s concentrated segregation was followed by concentrated gentrification that resulted in the massive displacement of African Americans from their historic communities.

      Tang is one of several featured at “Sightines Spoken: The Arts & Gentrification in East Austin,” a two-part panel that’s part of EAST this year. Organized by Sightlines, the event is a collaboration with Big Medium, Austin Creative Alliance and the George Washington Carver Museum & Culture Center.

      It will be held at the Carver Museum Nov. 13 and 15. “The Gentrification of East Austin: Place, Culture & the Forces of History” is the topic on Nov. 13, while “Artists Respond: Considering Place and Culture” is taken up on Nov. 15.

      Stay East, or go?

      During last year’s East Austin Studio Tour news broke that after 12 years of providing artists with affordable studio space and operating a gallery, the artist-run organization Pump Project was losing its lease. Like other studio complexes, Pump Project’s distinctive yellow warehouse on Shady Lane was a top destination stop on EAST.

      After new owners double the rent in 2015, most artist left Art Post, a motley collection of buildings on East Cesar Chavez.

      Salvage Vanguard Theater — home to dozens of performance groups — closed in 2016, likewise due to new owners demanding enormously increased rent. And the Off Center, staked out in 1999 off East Seventh Street by theater collective Rude Mechs, closed when the University of Texas, the property’s owner, decided to expanded its adjacent elementary school.

      This year’s East Austin Studio Tour is the last for the Flatbed complex which for 20 years has been home to fine arts printers Flatbed Press along with other galleries. Again, the property’s owners want to redevelop the former warehouse which is now surrounded by pricey apartments.

      “It’s tough to be in the middle of the displacement,” says Big Medium’s Little, a native Austinite.

      Earlier this year Pump Project found a new home — at least for the next three years — in a developer-built temporary arts complex going up south of the river in the East Riverside Drive area.

      Pump Project co-director Emmy Larsen said that when polled, the group’s resident artists said staying on the eastside, and being included in EAST, was very important to them.

      “Often we heard visitors (to our original location) say that EAST is the only time they ever came to Pump or got out to see Austin artists,” says Larsen, who added that at Pump averaged about 5,000 visitors during EAST.

      But not all artists and arts businesses facing relocation think staying in East Austin is imperative.

      Troy Campa is on the hunt for a new place for his gallery Cambia Art, which has been in Flatbed since 2014. And Campa is looking across the city.

      “We participate (in EAST) because it is something that seems to be important to the community, and we want to support that,” Campa says. “But it has very little direct benefit for us, and certainly not in sales. We do get a lot of traffic from people for whom it’s a once a year pilgrimage, it seems.”

      While the changing demographics will continue to change EAST, Little doesn’t foresee the tour ceasing. In fact, when Big Medium launched the West Austin Studio Tour in 2012, it was seen as acknowledgement of just how dispersed throughout the city Austin’s visual arts community really is.

      “Austin needs some kind of mechanism to see the depth and breadth of its visual arts community,” says Little. “There really isn’t anything else besides EAST, and WEST too, that offers the opportunity to see the vast number of artists here who make great art.”

      Portions of this article appeared in “EAST Shifts” in the Nov. 2018 of Arts + Culture Texas magazine and is reprinted with permission.


      The Weekly Line-up: 11.11.18

      Tammie Rubin's new series of sculpture "Everything You Ever” goes on view Nov. 17 at Women & Their Work.

      What’s good and what’s new for the week of Nov. 11, 2018.

      Creek Show
      Site-specific light installations once again illuminate Waller Creek, this time in a new location and with plenty of live music.
      6 to 10 p.m. nightly through Nov. 17. Waller Creek creekshow.com/experience/

      Read: Upstream: Creek Show Launches Along a New Stretch of Waller Creek

      “Sightlines Spoken: The Arts & Gentrification”
      A two-part look at the arts and its relationship to gentrification in East Austin, and beyond. “The Arts & Gentrification in East Austin”  will be held 7 p.m. Nov. 13 and 15 at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center, 1165 Angelina St.

      Read: The Arts and Gentrification To Be First Topic of “Sightlines Spoken,” a New Public Program

      New Music Mixer: Brent Baldwin & Steve Parker
      Austin musical originals Steve Parker and Brent Baldwin will join in a discussion moderated by Sightlines editor-in-chief Jeanne Claire van Ryzin as part of the East Austin Studio Tour.
      5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 14 (presentation portion at 6 p.m.) Friends & Allies Brewing, 979 Springdale Road. Free. sightlinesmag.org

      Austin International Drag Festival
      A staggering number of drag performers come to the Drag Festival which this year has its own Drag King fest feature.
      Nov. 15-18, Various locations; showcases at clubs in the Red River Cultural District, austindragfest.org/

      “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”
      Ev Lunning, Jr. plays Big Daddy and Gwendolyn Kelso stars as Maggie in Austin Shakespeare’s new production of Tennessee Williams’ dramatic masterpiece of a family torn apart by secrets and repression.
      Nov. 16-Dec. 2, Rollins Studio Theatre, Long Center. Tickets: thelongcenter.org

      Borderless: Conversations on Art, Action, and Justice
      Chaitali Sen hosts this on-going series about the power of words and the role of art in reflecting and changing our world. This month’s guest is Austin writer and educator Jack Kaulfus, whose most recent book is the short story collection “Tomorrow or Forever” (Transgress Press, 2018).
      7 p.m. Nov. 16, Malvern Books 613 W. 29th St. malvernbooks.com

      “Tammie Rubin: Everything You Ever”
      Tammie Rubin builds a new, provocative body of sculpture using ball moss dipped in porcelain slip, the tangled bunches of moss —embedded with steel wool and cotton —serving as symbols of gathering chaos and a knotty labyrinth of values. Rubin’s work aks potent questions.
      Opening: 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 17. Exhibit continues through Jan. 10. Women & Their Work, 1710 Lavaca St. womenandtheirwork.org

      Read: Disrupting Practice: To Make a New Series of Sculpture, Tammie Rubin Makes Her Art-Making Public

      “Inside Voices”
      A free, intimate concert in the East Side Collective art space features three sets that will bring the studio to life for a relaxing evening.  Set 1: Melissa Seely and Mallory Watson; Set 2 : Grainger Weston and Charlie Russell; Set 3 : Thomas Bey William Bailey.
      7 p.m. Nov. 17 East Side Collective2400 Cesar Chavez St. Free. friendlyghost.org/events

      See our East Austin Studio Tour picks. The tour continues Nov. 17-18


      Upstream: Creek Show Launches Along a New Stretch of Waller Creek

      Urban Scrim

      Creek Show, the popular nighttime event of temporary light-based art installations, moves upstream this year.

      From Nov. 9 through Nov. 17, six installations Waller Creek Conservancy’s illuminate a three-block stretch of Waller Creek between East Ninth Street and Symphony Square, at Red River and East Twelfth Street.

      The free event is open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

      People take pictures of Ameba Beta by Polis, one of six site-specific light-based installations in Creek Show 2018. Photos: Sightlines.

      A private non-profit working to revitalize a 1.5-mile stretch of Waller Creek in downtown Austin, the Conservancy began Creek Show in 2014.

      Last year the Conservancy took over the lease for a large part of Symphony Square, city-owned parkland along Waller Creek that includes several historic structures and a creekside amphitheater. The Conservancy renovated the facility which nows house the organization’s offices and both indoor and outdoor spaces for public events. During Creek Show, the newly renovated buildings are serving as lounge and bar. (Austin Symphony Orchestra was the property’s original leaseholder and retains the distinctive triangular 1870s Jeremiah Hamilton House as its ticket office.)

      The experience of this iteration of Creek Show is less spontaneous than in years past. Visitors are directed to an entrance on East Ninth Street so that everyone moves in one direction north along the creekside path to Symphony Square.

      And with Symphony Square’s amphitheater now in play, this year’s Creek Show is now also a live music event with shows beginning at 8 p.m. nearly every night.

      “Lightlines” by Campbell Landscape Architecture and Tab Labs is made of electroluminescent wires. It stretches over the Symphony Square area of Waller Creek. Live music begins at 8 p.m. on most nights during Creek Show.

      The transformation of 35 acres along Waller Creek is one of the city’s largest projects.

      To date, the Conservancy has raised $46 million from private sources and plans to raise  about $48 million more.

      Earlier this year, the Austin City Council authorized an extension of the tax increment financing, or TIF, assessed on the property surrounding Waller Creek, a move that will provide $110 million for the project. Another $42 million will come from other city and state of Texas sources.


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      Extended Play: For EAST, A Special New Music Mixer

        Brent Baldwin conducted "Mozart Requiem Undead" a massive 2014 collaboration in which 10 composers were commissioned to rework various movements of Mozart’s Requiem Mass. The project was commissioned by Texas Performing Arts and partners Golden Hornet Project and Fusebox Festival, and debuted at the 2014 Fusebox Festival.

        With the New Music Mixer overlapping this month with the East Austin Studio Tour, Sightlines and KMFA will host something of an extended play version of the casual happy hour-like confab featuring new music composers.

        On Nov. 13 Austin musical originals Steve Parker and Brent Baldwin will join in a discussion moderated by Sightlines editor-in-chief Jeanne Claire van Ryzin as part of the East Austin Studio Tour.

        The New Music Mixer is at Friends & Allies Brewing, 979 Springdale Road, from 5 to 7 p.m. with the presentation portion at 6 p.m. The event is free.

        And this time around we’ll be in the brewery area behind the taproom. Enjoy $1 off locally brewed pints!

        Composer, choral conductor and musician, Baldwin leads the adventurous choral ensemble Panoramic Voices.

        A musician by training, Parker’s artistic practice spans disciplines to include large scale site-specific performances and sound art installations. He recently won the Tito’s Prize and his exhibit “War Tuba Recital” is currently at Big Medium.


        Steve Parker (left) and Brent Baldwin after performing Parker’s “Bat/Man” in 2016.



        Sightlines Celebrates Its First Year!

        Sightlines is celebrating its first year of publication!

        We’ve published 280 articles by 25 writers and we think that’s worth a party

        Join us Saturday, Nov. 10 from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 10. We’ll be at East Austin Studio Tour Group Exhibition at Springdale General, 1029 Springdale Road.

        Thanks to Big Medium for hosting us at the EAST group exhibition and a big thanks to our friends at Big Bend Brewing Co. for providing the delicious Tejas beer.




        The Arts and Gentrification To Be First Topic of “Sightlines Spoken,” a New Public Program

        Carver Museum

        Sightlines is proud to announce “Sightlines Spoken,” a new public discussion series that will take up timely civic and cultural topics in panel discussions and forums, presented free to the public.

        The inaugural “Sightlines Spoken” will be a two-part look at the arts and its relationship to gentrification in East Austin, and beyond. “The Arts & Gentrification in East Austin”  will be held Nov. 13 and 15 at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center, 1165 Angelina St.

        The first panel discussion is “The Gentrification of East Austin: Place, Culture & the Forces of History” is at 7 p.m. Nov. 13. The second panel discussion is “Artists Respond: Considering Place & Culture” is at 7 p.m. Nov 15.

        Both events are free.

        “Sightlines Spoken: The Arts & Gentrification in East Austin” is an official event of the 2018 East Austin Studio Tour and is co-presented by Austin Creative Alliance, Big Medium and the Carver Museum.

        Lost in the common discussion of the massive shifts that have happened in East Austin, is the arts community’s position in the gentrification process. How are artists and arts organizations complicit in gentrification, even if unintentionally?

        What does Austin’s majority-white arts community need to understand about the history of East Austin and the political/economic/social forces which shaped it?  Finally how can artists be allies to communities displaced by gentrification? And how can artists incorporate community in their practice?

        Nov. 13: “The Gentrification of East Austin: Place, Culture & the Forces of History”
        What is the legacy of Austin’s 1928 master plan and its creation of the “Negro District”?What are the social and cultural effects of gentrification and displacement? What is interconnectivity of art, politics, place, and public policy
        Moderator: Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

        Cary Cordova, Assoc. Professor, American Studies, University of Texas. Author, “The Heart of the Mission: Latino Art and Politics in San Francisco,” Research interests: Latinx cultural production, interconnectivity of art, politics, place, and public policy.

        Bamidele Demerson, director, George Washington Carver Museum, Culture & Geneology Center

        Eric Tang, Assoc. Professor, African & African Diaspora Studies, University of Texas . Author of the studies “Outlier: The Case of Austin’s Declining African American Population”;”Those Who Left: Austin’s Declining African American Population”; “Those Who Stayed: The Impact of Gentrification on Longstanding Residents of East Austin.”;  and ““Are There More Dogs Than Children in East Austin?”

        Nov. 15: Artists Respond: Considering Place & Culture
        How do artists and cultural organizations work with place and culture? How can artists understand their struggle with affordability vis-a-vis the displacement of East Austin’s communities of color? How can artists be advocates for awareness of Austin’s history of segregation?
        Moderator: Michael Anthony Garcia, artist and curator

        Fidencio Duran
        , muralist
        Cindy Elizabeth, artist
        Nefertitti Jackmon, executive director, Six Square: Austin’s Black Cultural District

        This program is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department


        The City of Austin is proud to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you require special assistance for participation in our programs or use of our facilities, please call  (512) 974-3914.

        Channeling the Voices of Ferguson in “Until the Flood”

        Florinda Bryant stars in Theatre en Bloc's production of "Until the Flood"

        Theatre en Bloc’s latest offering, “Until the Flood” by Dael Orlandersmith, re-examines the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.

        The story of a community divided along fault lines of race is numbingly familiar to anybody paying attention to the news in America, but this one-woman play has taken a different tack: rather than using Ferguson to emblematize a host of nationally divisive topics, “Until the Flood” peers into the community itself.

        Jenny Lavery directs this regional premiere of the play, the original production of which was performed by the playwright herself.  The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis commissioned Orlandersmith, a Pulitzer Prize finalist (“Yellowman,” 2002) to write about the anguish the region had endured following Michael Brown’s death, and she chose to do so through interviews. The result is a 90-minute meeting of documentary theater and a vigil.

        Florinda Bryant acts as both storyteller and avatar, embodying eight characters with complex perspectives. She zigzags from white to black and young to old, pingponging around the various parts of greater St. Louis.

        With so many characters and so little narrative, though, the play invites us get to know neighborhoods rather than people. Performing with a single chair and limited costume changes, Bryant pays respect to each of these characters by offering them the dignity of being human. They flatter, doubt, push, and contradict themselves. In short, they feel — in most cases — quite real.

        In transitions, however,  Bryant and Lavery remind the audience again and again just how non-real this all is. A festive scarf quickly becomes a clergywoman’s stole, for instance. We watch her drink water, shake the former character from her body, and adopt the new one. We can even clock the passage of time in the play as Bryant methodically works her way through a stack of colorful notebooks — halfway keeping herself on the text, halfway insisting the play is itself a kind of trauma archive.

        Most strikingly, though, Bryant steps outside of all eight personas in order to silently regard the tragedy in its fullness. Blake Addyson’s scenic design, after all, presents a small platform raised in the middle of a glowing roadside memorial. Teddy bears, candles, posters, beer bottles, balloons, and other signs of communal mourning indicate that we are witnessing (or perhaps participating in) a ritual.  

        For all of Bryant’s efforts to portray each character honestly, the play’s dramatic fiber unravels in the monologue of an unabashed white supremacist. While disturbing, the moment feels unsatisfyingly inevitable. Of course he is horrible, and of course we detest him, so nothing is gained or learned from his acrimony.

        Bryant performs the monologue with complete sincerity, asking the audience to sit with futility — which may very well be the point. The playwright’s decision to include this extreme perspective grows more complicated knowing that these sketches are not drawn from specific interviews but are rather composite representations. It’s a technique that works quite well in certain more nuanced characters (disaffected teens, wisened barbers) but in this context leaves the actor nowhere to go.

        On the whole, Bryant’s powerful performance consecrates the ceremony of community remembrance. She exudes the energy of a person who has attended too many funerals, too many vigils. The eight separate identities that she embodies lend life to the many ways a group of people can experience and interpret events that devastate them.

        It’s as if you were to pick up eight of the candles left for Mike Brown and ask each one why it’s burning. Fear, rage, wearisomeness, hope. Each one would answer differently but go on burning together.     

        “Until the Flood” continues through Nov. 11 at the Vortex, vortexrep.org/31_untiltheflood