The Austin Tea Party

Nathan Jensen had contemplated leaving Austin a couple of years ago. He took a cross-country trip to check out the art scenes in various cities. But he's since reconsidered, and part of what's keeping him in Austin is a coalition of artists called the Austin Tea Party.

"It gives us a chance to work on things and show each other works-in-progress," Jensen said. "It also gives us a chance to learn how to network and do all the other things you don't do in the process of creating. You're taught art in school, but you're not taught how to make a living at it."

The group, formed this past spring, is intended to be a sort of support network for the artists involved. Some of the goals, like a planned 40-artist exhibition in November, are plainly concrete. But the larger goals, built around the idea of what Jensen calls "changing the way artists are perceived and thought of," are more ambitious and not so clear-cut.

The group came together through a happy accident. Brian King and Vikki Vranich, publishers of a tabloid-sized, artist-promoting, local publication called the Picture Paper, placed Jensen and some of the other Tea Party artists on the same page of an issue last April. "We contacted each other," Jensen said, "and said, `Let's do something.'"

The group meets on Sunday afternoons in Pease Park, with the activities varying from group projects to showing each other their portfolios. Although the group operates in a communal, egalitarian fashion, Vranich sees Jensen as a natural leader.

"He's got an amazing generosity of spirit," Vranich said. "It wasn't just a case of him choosing us. We chose him. He's loving and gentle, not elitist at all. It's amazing how much he gives to other artists."

Through events like the planned November show, the group intends to provide alternatives to the established network of galleries in Austin and throughout the state. Yet, Jensen recognizes the realities of going through the established means, and says one of the group's goals is to put together a portfolio featuring all seven Tea Party artists. "When I started going to galleries, it was a process I wasn't prepared for," Jensen said. "It's backbreaking work. By working together, we can have more energy to create." - P.W.

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