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Founders Day

The 2010 class of the Austin Arts Hall of Fame

By Robert Faires, Fri., June 4, 2010

At this point, Austin's creative scene has been so active and dynamic for so long that one might assume it has been this way always. But take any of the city's current cultural activities and trace it, like a river, to its source, and you'll find individuals who saw a need in Austin's creative life and took the initiative to address it, no matter the effort or personal sacrifice involved. The degree to which the visual arts, dance, theatre, and classical music flourish in Austin today is owed to those artists, educators, patrons, and arts advocates whose pioneering efforts and steadfast commitment laid the foundation years ago. The Austin Arts Hall of Fame was established to honor these individuals and their contributions to our civic life, and this year the four people being inducted each founded or played a key role in founding a significant cultural institution in this city. The Austin Critics Table, that loose affiliation of arts writers that recognizes outstanding creative work in our city every year, will induct them on Monday, June 7, in a ceremony at 7pm at the Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research. Here is an introduction to this quartet of cultural heroes.

JoAnne Christian

Founders Day
Photo by John Anderson

She was among the first voices to call for the old Palmer Auditorium to be renovated into a performing arts center, and she was still a driving force in that effort when the Long Center finally opened its doors 15 years later. That says a lot about JoAnne Christian, about her devotion to and advocacy for the arts and her unshakable resolve in seeing a project through, no matter how many hurdles are thrown in her way. And the road to building this local arts center was strewn with more hurdles than an obstacle course for Marines: getting the city government to back it, winning the electorate's support in a 1998 bond election, raising more money than any cultural campaign in the city's history (ultimately $80 million), and an economic bust that stalled fundraising and caused the original architectural plans to be scrapped, among others. But as one of "the Three 'J's" who initiated the drive to create what became the Long Center – the others are longtime friends Jane Sibley and Jare Smith – Christian was determined that the center be finished. That perseverance no doubt served Christian well in the courtroom – she's a retired attorney – but it's in our arts community that it has been transformative, not just with the Long Center but also Austin Lyric Opera, of which she was a founding board member, the Blanton Museum of Art, the Austin Symphony Orchestra, Conspirare, the Ransom Center, and last but not least, the CreateAustin Plan, through which Christian helped set the course for the future of the arts and creativity in this city.

James Dick

Founders Day
Photo by John Anderson

The life of an eminent concert pianist was waiting for James Dick 40 years ago. Having graduated from the University of Texas with special honors in piano, received a Fulbright fellowship that allowed him to study for two years in London at the Royal Academy of Music and with Sir Clifford Curzon, made the finals in multiple major piano contests (including second prize in the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition and fifth prize in the International Tchaikovsky Competition), and gotten Sol Hurok's company to manage him, Dick was set for a career of touring the world and playing with its finest orchestras. But the Kansas native had other ideas – namely, keeping Central Texas as his home and establishing an institute here for the study and performance of classical music. And in 1971, that's just what he did, bringing 10 piano students to the unlikely locale of Round Top, Texas, 70 miles southeast of Austin, for 10 days of master classes. From that, the International Festival-Institute – now the Round Top Festival Institute – has grown into a major music festival, with concerts year-round on a 210-acre campus that includes a 1,000-seat concert hall and a six-week summer study program for chamber musicians and soloists. Not that Dick never enjoyed that concert career. He's played in London, Paris, Bucharest, Singapore, St. Petersburg, and, of course, New York City, and his efforts have earned him acclaim both near (Texas State Musician in 2003, a Texas Medal of Arts in 2009) and far (a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture in 1994). But Dick's heart remains in the heart of Texas, where he's built classical musicians a unique and extraordinary home.

Alan Pogue

Founders Day
Photo by John Anderson

Never before have so many done so much to record the world around us, and yet in our information age so much still slips by without notice. We need witnesses, and one of the best Austin has – that any city could have – is Alan Pogue. For four decades, this local photographer has been capturing and preserving on film the too-often ignored struggles of people around the world. Inspired by his experiences as a medic in Vietnam, Pogue has typically focused on individuals in profound need, oppressed by poverty, war, or political violence. Pogue first turned his lens on Texas migrant farmworkers and the harsh conditions under which they lived and worked, and ever since he has traveled extensively – Cuba, Chiapas, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Israel, Haiti – to document like injustices and see to it that the world sees them. He's done the same closer to home, in post-Katrina New Orleans or on death row in Texas prisons, but wherever he is, his images tell their subjects' stories with eloquence and personal intimacy – qualities he shares with his mentor, the great Works Projects Administration photographer and UT professor Russell Lee. In founding the Texas Center for Documentary Photography, Pogue has worked to keep alive the tradition to which he and Lee belong. It serves as both showcase and archive for his thousands of historic images, many of which document Austin's political and cultural life over the last 40 years – a vast treasure that is unmatched. In addition to shooting for The Rag, Austin's legendary local counterculture newspaper; the Chronicle; Texas Monthly; and The Texas Observer, where he has been staff photographer since 1972, Pogue has had his photographs published in major media outlets around the world, exhibited nationally and internationally, and collected in the book Witness for Justice.

Maria Salinas

Founders Day
Photo by John Anderson

When she first organized a dance company in Austin, Maria Salinas was thinking about her family. Ballet folklórico was a way that her children could learn more about their Mexican heritage and get involved in cultural celebrations such as Cinco de Mayo. So she drew in the kids from a handful of neighborhood families, and Ballet Folklórico Aztlan de Tejas was born. But what began in 1974 as neighborhood youngsters learning some folk dance steps after school developed rather quickly into a serious cultural enterprise. Salinas contacted government officials in Mexico about bringing her nascent troupe's dancers south of the border to study, and before long, she and her students were in Mexico City, taking summer courses at the Academia Nacional de Danza and the Instituto de Bellas Artes, where they were schooled in the history of folklórico and all its traditions. And they returned not only with newfound skills but authentic costumes, handmade in the regions specific to particular dances. At a time when Austin's Latino community had little in the way of organized artistic activity, Salinas established a company that provided not only a strong tie to Mexican cultural tradition but also set a high standard for commitment to authenticity and attention to detail. Thirty-six years after its founding, the company endures, and though its mission has expanded to include contemporary Latino choreography and music, Aztlan Dance is still about family. Maria's son Roën has been the company's artistic director for 22 years now.

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