Top stories of 2021


How to select the year’s top stories?

In the digital sphere, the number of pageviews is only one measure of reader interest. So in evaluating the more than 340 articles and posts that appeared on our site in 2021, we considered several factors.

We calculated in social media metrics — how often a story is shared or liked, re-Tweeted, and otherwise bandied about. We also looked at how some articles continued to pull in readers or garner social media attention weeks, and even months, after publication. Finally, there’s also good old-fashioned reader reaction.

Here then, in no particular order, are Sightlines top stories for 2021.

This year Austin Opera continued its stellar job of adapting to our ever-changing circumstances, and the announcement that the company was returning to live performance in April with a production of “Tosca” staged in the amphitheater of the Circuit of the Americas racetrack spread nationally.

In the run-up to the May ballot initiative on a homeless camping ban, book critic Julie Poole penned a compelling, eloquent and deeply personal essay about her own experience with homelessness:  Thirteen ways of looking at the phrase ‘homeless’.”

Readers responded to the potent writing in Erin Keever’s review essay on the Daniel Johnston exhibition at the Contemporary Austin: “The complicated legacy of Daniel Johnston’s art.”

Women & Their Work
Soft sculpture by Lahib Jaddo in the inaugural exhibition at the new Women & Their Work gallery..

Last year, Women & Their Work purchased its first permanent home in its four-decade history. Then early this year, the venerated Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art acquired the archives of the female-founded independent arts organization. And in July, Women & Their Work opened the doors of its new East Austin home with a lively exhibition of nine Texas female artists working across a kinetic panorama of mediums and cultures.

Movie theaters and arthouse cinemas re-opened this year, and the flurry film releases kept our critic Charley Ealy very busy. Perhaps not surprisingly three films with local ties resonated with readers. Premiering at the Austin Film Festival the documentary Cusp” followed the summertime lives of three teenage girls in a small Central Texas town. Also popular: The rediscovery and re-release  of ““Heartworn Highways,” a remarkable documentary about the country music outlaws of Austin in the 1970s. And readers enjoyed SXSW premiere of “Without Getting Killed or Caught,” a documentary about Americana musician Guy Clark told from the perspective of his wife Susanna.

Irene Roderick
Trained as a painter, Austin-based artist Irene Roderick began quilting in 2016. “Frankly I was tired of painting after 50 years.,” she says, and now thinks of quilting as “utilitarian painting.”

Readers were smitten with Irene Roderick and her improvisational method of quiltmaking. Also enjoyed were exhibition reviews “A weird, phantasmagorical dimension: Matthew Langland at Goodluckhavefun” and especially “Where the Black girls are: A review of Deborah Roberts’ ‘I’m’” about the artist’s first solo museum show in her home state of Texas. And readers celebrated the preservation of a Latinx printmaking legend: “Eight years after Sam Coronado’s death, Pepe Coronado and Jonathan Rebolloso continue his printmaking legacy.”

Some new stories grabbed particular attention:

Bartlett Project
Aimèe Everett’s installation “Seeing Ghosts,” seen here at the June 12 opening of the Bartlett Project. The collage features photos sourced from Bartlett’s Black community. Photo by Jack Plunkett

Creative initiatives sometime fail artists. This year, an Austin art collective, ICOSA, and an independent curator choose to collaborate with a private developer for a temporary exhibition in the small town of Bartlett, just north of Austin. Then an installation called “Seeing Ghosts” by Black artist Aimèe Everett was damaged, and the collective and the curator dodged responsibility.

“In the small town of Bartlett, Texas, an art project gone wrong”

Our story attracted a great deal of interest, regionally and even nationally. Since our article ran, Bartlett Project organizers have written Everett out of their accounts of the exhibition.  Nevertheless, Everett has persisted and “Seeing Ghosts: Revisited” is on view at the South Dallas Cultural Center through Jan. 29, 2022.


Phillips House
Built in 1964 for businesswoman and civic leader Della Phillips, the Phillips house is the work of architect John S. Chase, the first Black licensed architect in Texas. Photo by Lauren Kerr

Place matters. “Common ground: The story of Austin’s newest, and only Black, historic district” may have prefaced Preservation Austin’s virtual homes tour, but its history of the midcentury Rogers Washington Holy Cross Historic District in East Austin and the people who made the neighborhood resonated with readers long past the tour.

Another story about place — “Two chairs and a green sponge: Ten Eyck Landscape Architects transform Kingsbury Commons in Pease Park” — revealed how Christine Ten Eyck and her team brought life back to a favorite Austin park with a contemporary commitment to doing right by our environment and designing elements that serve people.

Also, what’s old and much loved was renewed and reopened: “After four years of renovation (and a pandemic), Austin’s historic French Legation reopens.”

Finally, my favorite of the articles I wrote this year was about a brilliant pandemic pivot at the George Washington Carver Museum: “At the Carver Museum, the Small Black Museum Residency project breaks new ground.”

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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