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The Weekly Line-up: 9.23.18

Taylor Mac performs his "A 24-decade History of Popular Music."

The list of what’s new and what’s good for the week of Sept. 23, 2018.

Reading: Edward P. Jones
A MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant recipient, Jones is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2003 novel “The Known World” and the short story collections “Lost in the City” (1992) and “All Aunt Hagar’s Children (2006). Hosted by the Michener Center for Writers.
7 p.m. Sept. 24. Mulva Auditorium, Engineering Education and Research Center, 2501 Speedway.

“The Secret Life of Lance Letscher”
He’ll be there. A screening of the deeply personal documentary about the Austin collage artist will feature Lance Letscher in attendance and will be hosted by Richard Linklater with director Sandra Adair. And there’s e a pop-up show of Letscher’s collages.
7:30 p.m. Sept. 27. Austin Film Society Cinema, 6406 N I-35, austinfilm.org/screening/

Taylor Mac: “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (Abridged)”
McArthur Foundation “genius” grant winner Taylor Mac performs an abridged version of his epic 24-hour stage solo stage show that interprets the social history of the United States — all 240 years and counting — through popular songs ranging from 19th-century murder ballads to disco, Walt Whitman to David Bowie.
8 p.m. Sept. 27-28, McCullough Theatre, UT campus, $34-$40 texasperformingarts.org

Rooftop Architecture Film Series
“Frei Otto: Spanning the Future,” about the German experimental architect, starts the fall’s Rooftop Architecture Film Series. Picnics and BYOB welcome. And Royal Blue Grocery offers 20% off food and drink purchases. Just check in at the Jones Center and get your wristband, then go across the street to Royal Blue at 609 Congress Ave.
Roof opens 7 p.m., film at 8 p.m. Sept. 27. Contemporary Austin-Jones Center, 700 Congress Ave. $10. thecontemporaryaustin.org/event/

Will Eno’s “Middletown”
Small town America is a stand-in for the entire universe and the human experience in Eno’s quirky, deeply moving and funny play.
Sept. 27-Oct. 7, Mary Moody Northen Theatre, St. Edward’s Univ., 3001 S. Congress Ave. www.stedwards.edu/theatre

“Kusama — Infinity”
A thorough documentary charts Yayoi Kusama’s journey from a conservative upbringing in Japan to her brush with fame in America during the 1960s (where she rivaled Andy Warhol for press attention) and concludes with the international fame she has finally achieved within the art world.
Sept. 28-30, Austin Film Society Cinema, 6406 N I-35, austinfilm.org/screening/kusama-infinity/

Reading: Pete Gershon, “Collision: The Contemporary Art Scene in Houston, 1972-1985”
Peter Gershon will be joined in conversation about his new book by Blanton curator emerita Annette DiMeo Carlozzi.
6 p.m. Sept. 29, Book People, 604 N. Lamar Blvd. bookpeople.com/event/

New Music Co-op: Bound Together
New Music Co-op goes big with a full string orchestra and a collaboration with choir Panoramic Voices. Brent Baldwin conducts the concert which is anchored by Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” a classic work of late 20th century music minimalism. And there’s new pieces by Baldwin, Andrew Stoltz and Travis Weller.
8 p.m. Sept. 29. Jessen Auditorium, UT campus, $12-$25, eventbrite.com/e/nmc-presents

“A Plan and Not Quite Enough Time”
A staged reading of the latest from Austin playwright Kirk Lynn, a lyrical biography of Leonard Bernstein takes, as Lynn says “a symphonic look at the major melodies playing throughout Bernstein’s life: music, family, spiritual longing, carnal passions and death.”
8 p.m. Sept. 29-30, B. Iden Payne Theatre, Winship Building, UT campus. $21-$26, texasperformingarts.evenue.net

Gender Unbound Art Fest
Trans and intersex art festival featuring visual art, music, performance, and film.
Sept. 29-30, Blue Genie Art Bazaar, 6100 Airport. genderunbound.org

Readings: International Translation Day
Marian Schwartz will be read from her translation of Russian author Leonid Yuzefovich’s Horsemen of the Sands, and Philip Boehm will read from his translation of Polish author Hannah Krall’s Chasing the King of Hearts.
5:30 p.m. Sept. 30, Malvern Books, 613 W. 29th St. malvernbooks.com/event/


New Music Co-op’s Bound Together

    Detail of a woodcut print for Lynd Ward's "Song Without Words"

    Austin’s New Music Co-op typically stages small concerts in untraditional venues — on the tiny Bird Island in the middle of Ladybird Lake, for example, or in the historic Seaholm Power Plant before it was renovated to modern office building.

    New Music Co-op: Bound Together, 8 p.m. Sept. 29. Jessen Auditorium, UT campus, $12-$25, eventbrite.com

    But with its next concert the composers cooperative goes big with a full string orchestra and a collaboration with choir Panoramic Voices. And “Bound Together” will be presented in the historic Jessen Auditorium, the University of Texas’ original recital hall.

    Panoramic Voices artistic director Brent Baldwin conducts the concert which is anchored by Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” a classic work of late 20th century music minimalism. The program also features new pieces by Baldwin, Andrew Stoltz and Travis Weller.

    “After stepping away from composing for eight years, Pärt returned to music writing in 1976 with a much simpler, more minimal style than he’d employed in his younger years,” explains Baldwin. “Using tintinnabuli as a descriptor (Latin for “bells”), he brought forth a number of new works, including one he would subject to a myriad of instrumentation, Fratres (Brothers).”
    Baldwin and the musicians will be performing the 1992 edition for solo violin, percussion, and strings.
    “Beginning with a flurry of arpeggios from the solo violinist (concertmaster Sara Sasaki), the work settles into a recurring ‘heartbeat’ motif performed by percussion and pizzicato  violin, with a string chords unfolding in meditative succession,” says Baldwin. “The quiet pacing of these textures and harmonies alternate with the heartbeat motif (painting what the composer described as a battle between the instant and eternity), and exemplify perfectly Part’s tintinnabuli style.”
    For his lastest composition, Baldwin used Lynd Ward’s potent 1936 graphic novel “Song Without Words” as inspiration for a choral tone poem.
    Using his extraordinarily detailed wood engravings, Ward tells the tale of an expectant mother and her anxiety over bringing a child into a world of fascism (the inspiration for the story was autobiographical: Ward and writer May McNeer were then expecting their second child amidst the rise of Hitler).
    Says Baldwin: “Fiercely anti-war in theme, and with brutal and disturbing imagery, Ward’s ‘Song Without Words’ describes the woman’s numerous nightmare scenarios she imagines might be in store for her future child. There’s a glimmer of hope at the end as the woman and her partner bask in the glow of their city, bracing defiantly for the unknown future.”
    “Given current events, fascism is sadly a topic we must deal with yet again. This work attempts to be a small part of that conversation.”
    In keeping with the work’s title, the singers of Panaromic Voices will forgo traditional text in Baldwin’s piece and instead sing vocal sound textures.
    Says Baldwin: “The singers will be painting in sound what graphic novelist — and Lynd Ward devotee — Art Spiegelman describes as ‘a howl of pained outrage.'”

    “Kusama: Infinity” Reveals the Artist Behind the Wildly Popular Art

    Yayoi Kusama has been making art since the 1950s. But it’s only in the last few years that the octogenarian Japanese artist’s mirrored rooms and hypnotic paintings of weblike nets and dots have catapulted her into the art world stratosphere.

    Her blockbuster traveling retrospective — “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” — might just be the most Instagramed art exhibition ever, the mesmirizing installations the irresistable social media fodder

    Now a new documentary, “Kusama — Infinity,” thoroughly charts the life and career of the 89-year-old Japanese artist who spent decades in obscurity yet last year setting the record for the highest amount paid for a work by a living female artist.

    Join Sightlines at the 3:40 p.m. Sept. 30 screening of “Kusama — Infinity.” Meet us in the lobby before the film and try the special “Infinitea” cocktail crafted by the AFS Cinema. Get tickets here.

    Directed by Heather Lenz, the film offers abundant insight and background though it is far more traditional — at least in style and format — than its subject.

    Austin Film Society screens “Kusama — Infinity” Sept. 28-30. Sightlines is the media sponsor.

    And that’s just fine. Kusama’s novel-worthy life and deeply psychological and personal art-making practice don’t need embellishments.

    Born in 1929 to a well-off yet deeply unhappy family in provinicial Japan, Kusama faced retribution from her mother who disapproved of art-making. Instead, her mother dispatched the young girl to spy on her philandering father. And when she saw her father in flagrante delicto, the experience Kusama with a permanent distaste for sex. (She shared that distaste, apparently, with one of her beaus, the American artist Joseph Cornell, who had an intense infatuation with Kusama during the years she lived and worked in New York.)

    Nevertheless Kusama had the financial means, and the moxie, to extratricate herself from her provincial home and got herself to New York by 1957. As creatively invigorating as New York was, she encountered an art world dominated by white men — and Abstract Expressionism — who regarded an Asian woman as little more than an exotic. (The film points out that no matter their work, women artists in the 1950s were only included in group shows; solo exhibitions were the exclusive the domain of men.)

    Hertz’s film makes the case that there were plenty in the art world ready to imitate Kusama’s style, though.

    Claes Oldenburg is shown to have stolen the idea of making soft sculptures from her (Oldenburg’s wife reportedly apologized to Kusama). And Warhol nicked ideas too.

    In the 1960s, Kusama staged increasingly elaborate happenings in very conspicuous public places such as Central Park or the Museum of Modern Art, usually parading nude.

    By the early 1970s, the always mentally-fragile Kusama, exhausted by from several breakdowns, returned to Japan, opting to live in a hospital for the mentally ill where she still resides today, despite her art world celebrity.

    A thorough portrait with valuable critical commentary interspered, “Kusama — Infinity” convinces that despite her enormously high profile, contemporary art history is still catching up with the inimitable Yayoi Kusama.

    Yayoi Kusama in the 1960s. (Photo by Harrie Verstappin/courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

    Warps and Wefts in Time: Ana Esteve Llorens Channels Memory into Cloth

      The exhibition catalogue from Ana Esteve Lloren’s solo show at Las Cruxes, “Correspondence,” reads like poetry.

      “You are actually inside of the memory in a way. It emanates from you. To meditate on it helps me think.” 

      Compiled from emailed fragments exchanged with a long-time friend — New York-based writer Amira Pierce — over the course of Esteve Lloren’s planning for the show, the catalogue exposes the artist’s history, motivations, personality and feelings without staunch academicism.

      It is overtly affectionate, since the words come from a friend, exalting Esteve Lloren’s “gift” for “giving form to feeling” with generous descriptors she would not use herself. The type-set messages are neatly packaged with a set of glossy postcards that showcase detail shots of Esteve Lloren’s work, a subliminal urging that the consumer would use them to recommence the act of correspondence — about the show, about memories, about life.

      “Correspondence” is Esteve Lloren’s newest series of weaving works. Made with a traditional backstrap loom attached to her body, the weavings evoke memories of textiles from her youth in Spain. They are not direct copies. Rather they are distortions of what she remembers that speak to the fragility of memory and the subtractions and additions that alter it over the course of a life.

      Ana Esteve Llorens, “Untitled (A Small Purple),” 2018. Hand woven cotton, natural Cochineal and Huizache dyes, MDF, plexiglass, paint. Photo courtesy of the artist.

      The clarity of Esteve Lloren’s recollections is also warped by the complicated and methodical process of weaving, a technique she originally observed from her grandmother and perfected during a stay at an artists’ cooperative in Mexico City. There, women weavers still use backstrap looms extensively. These devices are deceptively simple. After tying on the loom around the waist with a cloth strap, the weaver endlessly loops a wooden shaft around and through a mass of hundreds of threads to produces intricate lines, color blocks and patterns. The resulting pieces are ubiquitous around the Latin world, and touched Esteve Llorens in both Mexico and her native Spain.

      Beyond the delicate process of hand-weaving each of the small individual works — which can take up to two weeks to produce — Esteve Llorens authenticates her work by sourcing natural dyes, like deep scarlet red from crushed Cochineal insects and notoriously difficult-to-obtain indigo. A bevy of indigenous plants lend their rich color to the cotton and wool fibers.

      Methods of natural dye extraction are a marvel of pre-industrial technology. And yet Esteve Llorens uses some of the most modern of technologies to round out her pieces, adding frames made of precisely cut fiberboard and plexiglass in organic shapes that mimic the stretch and pull of the fabric.

      Ana Esteve Llorens, “Untitled (Big Squares Blue),” 2018. Hand woven cotton and wool, natural Indigo dye, mdf, plexiglass, paint. Photo courtesy of the artist.

      This juxtaposition of techniques owes to the artist’s training as an engineer. In “Blinker (4 ½” x 15, 1:1),” for example, recognizably modern fabricated materials including aluminum, mirrors, commercial paint, are the only ones in play. Esteve Llorens often messes with mirrors in her work, because distorting them shows us different ways of seeing ourselves. Here, she arranges mirrors at one-to-one intervals with flat, blank, non-reflecting and uninviting wood. In a tiny space such as Las Cruxes, which aside from an art gallery doubles as a retail shop selling clothing, accessories, and media, the effect is intentionally frustrating.

      Ana Esteve Llorens, “Blinker (4 1/2” x 15, 1:1),” 2018. Wood, aluminum, mirror, paint. Photo courtesy of the artist.

      Esteve Llorens says exhibiting in a store elicits special considerations. For one, mirrors are a necessity in commercial spaces. “Blinker” is right across from a clothing rack and situated about a quarter of the way up the wall. You could expect to pick out a dress, turn around and see in the mirror how you would look in the dress. But if you can only see a slice of yourself, at what point do you realize that the mirror isn’t a mirror, but an art piece?

      Textiles also have reflective surfaces. For Esteve Llorens, they mirror the span of her life, reflect moments that can’t be relived and that need to be memorialized with the labor that goes into weaving the cloth. They provide the seed of an idea. She begins with a hazy vision and gets lost in keeping up with numbers of threads she’s pulled and in the winding directions of the lines in the patterns. Though she follows a carefully mathematical system, a piece can start out with four straight lines and turn into six squiggly ones. At some point, she lets the process take over and her deft fingers fulfill the task at hand. What results is a culmination of everything she’s been taught and everything she’s had to learn.

      na Esteve Llorens, “Untitled (A Small Gray),” 2018. Hand woven cotton, natural Huizache dye, mdf, plexiglass, paint. Photo courtesy of the artist.

      Esteve Llorens recently taught a class at the gallery. Though she’s taken her weaving skills  far, it was the first time she’s attempted to teach them. Instead of starting off participants on the loom, she set them up with strips of cut paper to simplify the daunting job of weaving together all of the individual threads. Then, she let them experiment with the loom, establishing a connection between their bodies and the apparatus. In those few moments,  students caught a glimpse of the relationship Esteve Llorens has built with her loom over the years, so intertwined that it functions as an extra appendage.

      Amira Pierce, in the catalogue, sums up the relationships at play beautifully, harkening back to the theme of the show: “In our loneliness, there is a correspondence, a knowing that the work we do in our solitude is, in essence, who we are, and also our way of reaching deeper into ourselves and reaching towards each other.”





      Arts Commission to Consider Using Reserve Fund to Make-up Shortfalls

      Arts Commission chair Jaime Castillo addresses the public meeting on Sept. 17.

      Emotions — and confusion — ran high at an Austin Arts Commission meeting last night where more than 100 people packed the room to watch as commissioners tried to grapple with a cut in available monies that’s left many arts organizations facing a steep drop in their city funding.

      The upshot at the end of a at times convoluted two-hour meeting is that the Arts Commission voted to dip into a reserve fund and work at finding other monies to address the shortcomings. The commission will present its solutions at a Sept. 24 meeting.

      Last week the Austin arts community erupted when the city’s Cultural Arts Division (CAD) staff released a list of funding recommendations that had some longtime organizations receiving up to 40 percent less than last year, while some smaller and new groups were recommended for increases as much as 1100 percent.

      City staff said the cuts were a result of both an increased number of applicants this year  and a drop in available funds.

      The city annually allocates 15% of Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) to the Cultural Arts Division’s for its programs, which include contracts to arts organizations and individual artists. This year, CAD has $11.2 million for cultural contracts, about $700,000 less than last year.

      At the meeting, both commissioners and arts leaders complained that CAD staff gave little notice of the drop in funding.

      Commissioner Bears Fonte pressed city staff to clarify when they knew of both the increase in applicants and the drop in projected HOT funds, and why that information was not shared with the Arts Commission and the arts community.

      Cultural funding applications are due May 1 and HOT fund estimates usually arrive in June.

      But the funding shortage and the increase in applications were not revealed to commission or to the public by CAD staff until Sept. 17, a week before the funding recommendations were to go before city council for approval and just two weeks before the Oct. 1 start of the city’s fiscal year.

      “That’s three months of time we could have been preparing our arts organizations for a big drop in their funding,” said Fonte.

      Ballet Austin executive director Cookie Ruiz, representing the Austin Arts Advocacy Coalition, also called for increased transparency.

      “Organizations have artists under contracts by now,” Ruiz said, addressing the commission. “We need greater communication throughout the entire funding process.”

      The city of Austin is on track to fund 98.5% of all applicants for cultural funding.

      “We have to have a commitment to the process,” said Louis Grachos, CEO of The Contemporary Austin. “We also need greater transparency on how the funding matrix is applied.”

      Indeed, the competitiveness of city cultural funding was a point of contention for both arts managers and some arts commissioners. The city uses a points-based matrix for evaluating applicants, with those scoring 75 out of 100 points eligible for funding.

      CAD compliance manager Jesús Pantel reported that applications this year jumped to 402, up from 243 four years ago. Pantel said that only “five or six” of those 402 applications were not recommend for funded.

      The net result is that this year the city of Austin is on track to fund 98.5% of all applicants for cultural funding.

      “I’d like to know about any other funding agencies that give awards to 99 percent of their applicants,” said Acia Gray, executive and artistic director of Tapestry Dance Company.

      Indeed the sheer increase in new applicants this year is an issue creating tension, with arguments for and against the prioritization of funding to long-established organizations over new and emerging groups.

      “I strongly disagree that the old organizations are more important than new ones,” said commissioner Fonte. “We don’t need to be penalizing the new voices in Austin, they’re being responsive to our community.”

      Late in the meeting, the audience grew restive when commissioner Felipe Garza said that the current budget cuts would not be an issue for arts groups if they would “just not spend money until you have it in hand.”

      “I have dancers already under contract for shows already planned,” Gray interjected. “I can’t undo that.”

      With the Austin municipal fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and city funds usually not distributed until December or January, most arts groups are well into a season’s programming by the time they receive their city monies.

      Cultural Arts Division manager Meghan Wells pledged greater communication with the arts community and the arts community.

      However the swirl of issues discussed left many confused by meeting’s end, with some — including at least one arts commissioner — leaving the meeting believing that the vote to release the five percent reserve had not been passed.

      In the end, the Commission directed its Working Group subcommittee to re-examine and re-work the funding matrix by taking the five percent reserve fund (approximately $565,000) plus an additional $135,000 in receipts that have come in since earlier projections this past July. The group is also charged with re-evaluating the matrix parameters used to calculate awards as well as the funding allocations for other CAD programs such the arts tourism and promotions budget.

      The group will present its recommendations at a specially called Arts Commission meeting on Sept. 24. Final funding recommendations will go before city council Oct. 4.

      This morning at an Austin city council work session at which CAD presented an update, Mayor Steve Adler also stressed the need for more transparency.

      “Clearly no arts group in this city should assume that their grant request is going to be successful or that their funding level will always be the same,” Adler said. “But the sooner we can get that information out to them so that they can build contingencies, the better.”

      Council members Lesley Pool and Ann Kitchens both pressed CAD staff to provide greater detail when the new round of recommendations are presented.

      “I’d really like to know why some (arts groups) received such big increases and others did not,” said Pool.

      Disclosure: Sightlines is a first-time applicant to the city’s Cultural Arts core funding program.


      The Weekly Line-up: 9.16.18

      Lan Tuazon, "False Fruits"

      The list of what’s new and what’s good the week of Sept. 16, 2018.

      New Music Mixer
      The monthly happy hour series for classical music nerds and newbies alike this month features Austin composer Akshaya Avril Tucker. A collaboration of KMFA and Sightlines.
      5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 18, Friends & Allies Brewing, 979 Springdale Road. Free; $1 off pints.

      “In Living Color: Intersection of Art, Civil Rights & Pop Culture”
      In his vivid watercolor paintings, Emmy Award-winning artist James Gayles blurs the lines between civil rights and pop culture icons.
      Opening: 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 20, Six Square Gallery, 1152 San Bernard St. sixsquare.org 

      “Confessions of a Mexpatriate”
      Mical Trejo reprises his role in Raul Garza’s one-man play about an urbane Mexican American who travels to interior Mexico in search of his roots.
      8 p.m. Thursday-Saturdays, Sept. 20-Oct. 20, Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St., hydeparktheatre.org

      UT Visual Arts Center: Fall exhibits opening
      The Visual Arts Center debuts its slate of fall shows including “In the Land of Real Shadows,” from artist-in-residence Lan Tuazon; video work by Cuban artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons and “Sit: Designs by Charles and Ray Eames.”
      Opening: 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 21, Visual Arts Center, Art Building, 23rd and Trinity streets, utvac.org

      “Some Humans Were Harmed in the Making of the Show”
      En Route Productions presents a madcap new show about Helen, a recovering alcoholic and Tony Robbins enthusiast, who rallies her thrift store co-workers to stage the dramatic journey of how she found her inner elephant. Created by C.B. Goodman with music by Amber Quick.
      8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays Sept. 20-Oct. 6. Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale Road, enrouteproductions.com

      The Firebird and Dvorack’s Serenade
      Ballet Austin performs Stephen Mills’ choreography to Igor Stravinsky’s bewitching music and Lar Lubovitch’s  Dvořák Serenade. Music performed by the Austin Symphony Orchestra.
      8 p.m. Sept. 21-22, 3 p.m. Sept. 23. Dell Hall, Long Center, balletaustin.org

      “Your Mother’s Copy of the Kama Sutra”
      Present Company Theatre presents the regional premiere from celebrated local author and playwright Kirk Lynn, after its 2014 Off Broadway premiere. “Your Mother’s Copy of the Kama Sutra” is a play about a strange journey of sexual transgression, on the way to lifelong commitment and intimacy.
      Sept. 21-Oct. 4, Museum of Human Achievement, 916 Springdale Road. Tickets pay-what-you-wish. eventbrite.com/e/your-mothers-copy-of-the-kama-sutra

      “On Writing, Performance, and Resistance: A Café Libro Open Mic”
      Austin poet and artist Jasmine C. Bell is also the co-founder of Spitshine Poetry.
      7:30 p.m. Sept. 21, Resistencia Bookstore, 4926 E Cesar Chavez St. Free. resistenciabooks.com

      “Gabel Karsten: Shared Space”
      “I share my space with pigeons,” writes artist Gabel Karsten.”They have a home in our backyard where they are free to come and go.” Kartsen’s exhibits her hand-sculpted wire pigeons and oil pastel colorfield landscapes.
      Opening: 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 21, noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 22 and 29, Blackbox, 1017-A  W. Milton St.

      “The Difference Engine”
      New music purveyors Fast Forward Austin present Graham Reynolds sweeping, monumental work, “The Difference Engine,” that delves deep into the complex mind of mathematician Charles Babbage, who is credited with originating the concept of a digital programmable computer in the early 1800s. Performers include a Who’s Who of Austin’s alt classical scene: HUB New MusicDensity512 One Ounce Opera, and Corps Multiple.
      7 to 11 p.m. Sept. 22, 4th Tap Brewery Co-op, 10615 Metric Blvd. Free

      “Alegría: The Spanish Renaissance”
      Texas Early Music Project plays a concert of the greatest hits of Spanish Renaissance music — including some pieces racey enough to be banned by the Catholic Church of the time.
      7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 p.m.Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2111 Alexander Ave.; 3 p.m. Sept 23, St. Martin’s Lutheran Church, 606 W. 15th St. early-music.org






      Austin Arts Groups Angered As City Announces Cuts to Funding

      Big Medium's gallery in East Austin. Big Medium is among the Austin arts groups whose city funding has been significantly reduced.

      Arts groups in Austin are furious with the city’s Cultural Arts Division latest funding recommendations which propose major cuts to many longtime arts organizations — and significant increases to others.

      With the city’s cultural funding awards going before city council Sept. 20 for approval, the cultural arts division yesterday sent a letter to applicants that included a funding recommendations list of 54 organizations that receive core funding above a city-defined benchmark of $58,000 — a list that includes Austin’s largest art organizations as well as many of its mid-size groups.

      Among those seeing the biggest cut to its city funding is Big Medium, the organization behind the East Austin Studio Tour and the West Austin Studio Tour. Big Medium will see a 42 percent drop in its city funding and is this year recommended to receive $63,000 compared to the $109,900 it received last year.

      “This is crippling,” said Shea Little executive director of Big Medium, who added that the organization would likely have to use its recently received Bloomberg Philanthropies grant to make up the difference. “The opportunity of the potential growth that the Bloomberg award would have provided us is now totally erased.”

      Austin Film Society, Austin Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Austin, the Contemporary Austin, the Long Center and Zach Theatre — each of which last year received more than $200,000 in city funding — stand to lose between 15 and 38 percent to their individual awards.

      Austin Shakespeare’s funding was slashed by 42 percent and Tapestry Dance by 26 percent. Mexic-Arte Museum will see a 23 percent cut to its city funding, while theater collective Rude Mechanicals were reduced to $75,000, down 28 percent from last year’s $104,700.

      However, several arts organizations have been recommended for substantial increases to their city funding. The Fusebox Festival will see its funding increase by more than 30 percent and this year is set to receive $147,000. The Museum of Human Achievement in East Austin will get more than double it did last year, or $39,300.

      Arts education consultancy organization Mindpop will get a boost of 1,100 percent in its city funding. Last year Mindpop received $7,900; this year it will get $95,000.

      Waller Creek Conservancy — which was not funded last year by the city’s Cultural Arts program — is recommended to receive $67,000. Earlier this year, the Austin city council voted to extend the Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, for Waller Creek. The new TIF extension will direct $110 million in projected tax revenues to the Waller Creek Conservancy.

      A letter of action being circulated among major arts organization leaders calls the cuts “dramatic, unprecedented, and may result in the loss of jobs and arts engagements for many of Austin’s nonprofit arts organizations.”

      The Arts Commission approved the funding recommendations at its July 11 meeting. The city has $7,660,655 available for cultural arts funding this year.

      Cultural Arts Division staff declined to take specific questions from media on the funding recommendations. In the letter sent by Cultural Arts Division manager Meghan Wells, she said that Hotel Occupancy Tax — from which the city funds its cultural arts program — had not increased and that there was an increase in the number of applicants this year.

      City spokesperson Melissa Alvarado said that “cultural arts contracts will be discussed, negotiated and executed during the Austin City Council meeting on Sept. 20” and that details will only be discussed after that.”

      The Cultural Arts Division uses a variety of “funding matrix variables” to determine how much each applicant receives. Applications are reviewed by a peer panel according to four criteria with economic and social equity impact weighted 40 percent; artistic excellence, 30 percent; administrative capability, 20 percent; and marketing/tourism promotion, 10 percent.

      Late today, after news of the cuts circulated, Wells sent a second letter to all cultural contract applicants saying that the “since 2017, our applicant pool has grown 33%, bringing our total of cultural contracts close to 600, from 400 just two years ago.”

      “While this has been a positive…  it also presents challenges to how ‘responsive’ the matrix can be in determining how funds are distributed. Balancing awards to a growing number of groups of all sizes, missions, years of experience, audiences, disciplines, budgets, and application scores with respect to consistency, equity, and inclusion — with HOT funding that has not grown in proportion to our applicant pool — is the trick.”

      Wells said that “staff is working on bringing options to the Arts Commission and to City Council to consider in addressing these concerns for FY19” but that the Cultural Arts Dision was still dealing with fewer available funds in the coming year “due to higher administrative costs and no excess funds” rolled over as in previous years.

      The agenda for an already-scheduled Arts Commission meeting on Sept. 17 was amended to take up discussion of the funding recommendations. That meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the Carver Museum and Cultural Center, 1165 Angelina St.

      Disclosure: Sightlines is a first-time applicant to the city’s Cultural Arts core funding program.


      Study: Austin/Round Rock — and Fredericksburg — Make the List of Nation’s Most Vibrant Communities

      Austin's Trouble Puppet Theatre production, “Wars of Heaven: Smackdown.” Photo: Steve Rogers Photography

      A recent study by SMU’s DataArts ranks the Austin/Round Rock area — and Fredericksburg —camong the nation’s 40 most “arts vibrant” cities.

      DataArt’s Arts Vibrancy Index, ranks more than 900 communities across the country, by examining the level of supply, demand, and government support for the arts in each city.

      Interestingly it was combined the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area — not Austin alone — that ranked 18 among the nation’s top 20 large cities. The historic and tourist-friendly Hill Country city of Fredericksburg landed in the 10th position in the list of top 10 small cities.

      Both are the only cities or municipal areas in Texas to make DataArt’s national rankings.

      San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C. were the nation’s top three large cities. The small Colorado cities of Edwards and Durango bested Fredericksburg, as did Hood River, Oregon, and Oneonta, New York.

      DataArt’s analysis involves measuring characteristics such as the number of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations per capita in a community. The study also measured demand by counting the total nonprofit arts dollars in the community. Supply was measured by public support for arts and culture on a per capita basis.

      Austin was cited as having an abundance of smaller organizations and venues.

      The study’s authors explained their use of the term “vibrancy” as “in keeping with Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word to mean “pulsating with life, vigor, or activity.'”

      They also defended their empirical approach by stating that “all else being equal, more arts and cultural organizations in a community translates to more availability of arts experiences for people to engage with.”

      In addition to its Arts Vibrancy Index, SMU ArtsData issued scores for every U.S. county on its interactive map, based on measures of arts dollars, arts providers, government support, and socio-economic and other leisure characteristics.



      Look, and Touch: Terra Goolsby’s Slick Sculptures Dazzle at Dimension Gallery

        The title for Terra Goolsby’s showing of new work at Dimension Gallery, “Black Rainbow,” derives from an anecdote she tells about her daughter.

        “I one day saw my little girl, she drew a black rainbow,” Goolsby begins. “And I thought, ‘What an impossible idea,’ you know? Because light refracts color, how can you refract light through black? It’s the absence of light, so how is that possible?”

        “Black Rainbow” in on view 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Sept. 30 at Dimension Gallery, 979 Springdale Road

        The third iteration of a sculpture series concerning world mythologies, this story is a form of myth-making itself. What if some unknowable thing like a black rainbow existed? What would we do with it? Goolsby assumes that we would assign it a great amount of perhaps undue power.

        After investigating various creation and leviathan legends in her signature style of sumptuous hand-shaped porcelain, it was inevitable for Goolsby that the trope of idolatry would become the next new theme.

        “I found as I went the work itself became more and more formal, and I became more and more into the materiality of it, so that kind of drew me into idolatry.”

        Terra Goolsby, “Black Rainbow,” series, 2018. Installation view at Dimension Gallery. Photo courtesy the artist.

        Drenched in luxurious and hypnotizing black glaze, Goolsby’s primordial forms have orifices lined with soft green and black fur and glittering crystals. When asked if she minds if people touch them, Goolsby remarkably says no.

        “I wanted a really powerful aesthetic that was slick and attractive and tactile, so the really soft fur on the inside and slick exteriors,” she says. That combination makes the sculptures impossible not to want to reach out and feel.

        They also conjure an innate ancient desire to behold the power of a beautiful object.

        Goolsby traces the sources of this instinct throughout time and fools us into falling trap to it now again. The biblical Golden Calf parable was an obvious starting point with its cautionary tale of idol worship. Goolsby notes, “It seems like a biblical myth always pops up, they’re so old and accessible.”

        She mentions more contemporary folktales like “The Dark Crystal” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” both of which center around an object that secures knowledge and harmony in the universe. It’s this uncertainty — that you never know the magic some objects hold, that you never really know if you’ll get in trouble for touching them — that makes those objects so compelling.

        Associations with touch go beyond the act of viewing Goolsby’s sculptures. In her art-making process, Goolsby tunes in to her hands and the power they have to wield and subdue a demanding medium such as clay.

        Terra Goolsby, “Leviathan Series, Primordial,” 2017, porcelain and fake fur. Photo courtesy the artist.

        “I feel really close to that material physically, in a literal sense, when I’m working with it,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of tools separating me from the material.”

        Goolsby recently returned to ceramics after working for a time in other sculptural media and on projects that had an equal focus on materiality and the meaning we imbue in objects. As matchlessly ethereal as her recent sculptures are, Goolsby recognizes the origins of ceramics in household earthenware made for a most basic human activity: eating.

        In that, she makes an abstract relationship with the body by purposefully heightening the bodily aspects of  her sculptures – the distinctly organic shapes that ripple and bend around sensuous fur in an almost uncanny way.

        Terra Goolsby, “Leviathan Series, Unbridled,” 2017 porcelain and fake fur. Photo courtesy the artist.

        Her rekindled relationship with ceramics nearly coincides with her homecoming to Texas in the early 2010s. She got her BFA at UT Austin in 2004 and from there moved between several artist residencies around the country before landing at RISD where she received her MFA. Since moving back to Austin, she’s joined both Dimension Gallery and ICOSA Collective and exhibited extensively at both.

        One of her most formative experiences in ceramics, however, was straight out of high school when she left to study the art for two years in Hawaii.

        Terra Goolsby at Dimension Gallery. Photo by Lindsey Reynolds.

        “The tradition there is a lot of Japanese influence. The woman that I worked under, she was from Japan, I remember she was very strict with us. We spent a very long time just learning how to knead clay.”

        The experience granted her with a comprehension of the basics and a sense of discipline. Two decades later, her process is much more fundamental, and the “basics” have been pared down to mainly using just her hands.

        Repetition — like the reappearance of ceramics in Goolsby’s career — can be seen all over this body of work. The all-black sculptures fluctuate in only their size and in their tonality, owing to variations in the alchemy inside the kiln during the firing process.

        Goolsby’s is an obsessive reworking of the grand ideas that span time and remain ageless because they are so intrinsic to human nature.

        “I think in a lot of ways we kind of appropriate the same things over and over again so that they make sense now. I guess I try to do the same thing using the language that I know best, which is sculpture.”


        Lisa B. Thompson’s “Monroe” Celebrates Courage

        Taji Senior, Carla Nickerson and Deja Morgan in Lisa B. Thompson's "Monroe" at Austin Playhouse.

        A tragicomedy by local playwright and University professor Lisa B. Thompson, “Monroe” opened at Austin Playhouse Sept. 7.  Although this production is a premiere, Thompson germinated an earlier draft of the script while in graduate school decades ago, according to a recent interview.

        After entering and winning Austin Playhouse’s Festival of New Texas Plays contest earlier this year, Thompson (author of acclaimed off-Broadway show “Single Black Female”) was approached by artistic director Lara Toner Haddock who immediately requested the title. The result is a collaboration that opens the Playhouse’s 19th season in its theater at the ACC Highland Campus.

        “Monroe” continues through Sept. 30 at Austin Playhouse, info and tickets at austinplayhouse.com

        Monroe, Louisiana is a real town in Ouachita Parish and the homeplace of Thompson’s family prior to their move to California in the 1940s as well as the dramatic setting for the play. At the time it was a stronghold of Jim Crow, a doctrine brutally enforced by lynch-mobs. By placing the play in 1946, Thompson situates her personal family narrative squarely on top of the the broader story of the Great Migration of African Americans out of the south after WWII.

        “Monroe” begins with a lynching that burns with familiarity — both for its characters and an audience who has come to recognize the signals of that particular racial violence in the not-too-past southern past. For the inhabitants of “Monroe,” however, the future is not already here, and the decisions of their lives must discern a path to a better world.       

        Deja Morgan anchors the play as its pious heroine, Cherry Henry, a young woman who believes herself to be impregnated by immaculate conception following the murder of her brother. Morgan exudes the certainty of youth and cultivates humorous and poignant beats expertly in a cultural context where her zealotry cannot be so easily dismissed. Her love interest, the exuberant Clyde James (Kriston Woodreaux), can abide Louisiana no longer after he has endured cutting down his best friend (Cherry’s brother) and plans to escape to San Francisco as soon as he can convince Cherry to come along. Woodreaux and Morgan are electric together, sweet without saccharinity — rather like the pies for which she is locally famous.

        Ma Henry (Carla Nickerson), Cherry’s imperious grandmother, represents an older generation’s skepticism about moving out of the small communities that had sustained African American life through generations of oppression. Presiding over her front porch (a focal point of Mike Toner’s scenic design), Nickerson and Toner Haddock elevate Ma Henry to resemble a tragic queen of Greek drama, poised in front of her palace.

        Taji Senior’s stand-in performance as cousin Viola proved a last-minute treat for the first weekend of the run. Easily sliding into the role as a relative who has taken on airs since recently transplanted herself to Chicago, Senior’s timing and emotional depth were faultless even as she glanced occasionally at her lines. Crystal Bird Caviel will resume the role of Viola for the duration of the run.

        “Monroe” follows in the long tradition of writers making Louisiana mythic: the sacrosanct Jupiter Pond, cars that roll through town like demigods, ambrosial baked goods, and even Cherry, who considers herself the true “conduit” between the soil of Louisiana and the Almighty. Like all myths, parables, and piecemeal histories — all of which appellations apply here — the details matter.

        What seems at first an extraneous character, the local white physician Dr. Wyland (Huck Huckaby) who assures Cherry unequivocally that she could not be pregnant without “having been with a man,” may also be an intervention. It’s a remarkable inversion of a stage tradition that so often called for the sole Black character to serve purpose and then disappear altogether.

        Along the same vein, the warnings of the Henry family and those of his friend Seymore (the hilarious Marc Pouhé) who may in fact “see more” than anyone else, suggest that Clyde will also be the victim of the mob.

        That, however, is not Thompson’s tack. Handled with Toner Haddock’s care and the entire productions’ sharp minds, Monroe’s intervention does not dwell on injustice but rather celebrates the courage and the faith of the generation that bravely imagined a better future.