Austin Arts Get Going in 1995 Forward Motion

by Marene Gustin

In arts circles, 1995 may be best remembered as the year Congress gutted the National Endowment for the Arts and left a littered landscape of angry debate over public funding and freedom of expression; a year of intolerance and rhetoric on the political front and a year of decreased funding from foundations and individuals on the private side.

But, hey, it hasn't been all bad -- certainly not in Austin. Believe it or not, our city actually led the way in some arts innovations in 1995. In other areas, we just caught up or gained a little ground. But it was still a pretty good year, as evidenced by my list of... The Top Ten Things
to Happen in the Arts
in Austin in 1995 1. Give me space, lots of space. Maybe those carpetbaggers from Chicago squelched the Palmer Auditorium retrofit idea, but Austin still expanded its arts spaces. Everybody's talking about The Public Domain's new theatre on Congress and the Texas Fine Arts Association's multi-million dollar facility in the works on the Avenue.

2. Give me space, lots of space -- and increased visibility. AusTix/The Box Office opened a new ticket booth in the high-traffic area inside Book People at Sixth and Lamar. Now all those folks seeking books and coffee will be exposed to posters for local events and have easy access to tickets whether they like it or not.

3. To Infinity and Beyond! Who says old arts can't learn new tricks? The Texas Commission for the Arts (TCA) has become the first state organization in the nation to create their own online network. It'll be 1998 before it's fully functional but you'll see some action by this spring. Just think of all the time and money artists and organizations will be able to save by applying for grants and filing reports electronically.

4. To Infinity and Beyond, Part Two. Hello, right brain, this is the left brain. Austin Lyric Opera (ALO) pushes technology with new multimedia sets this season, the UT Performing Arts Center has commissioned a new virtual reality performance work from Sharir Dance Company, and Austin electronic composers such as Russel Pinkston, Michael Kapoulas, and Bill Meadows are exporting work all over the world. Awesome.

5. To Infinity and Beyond, Part Three (3.5 million, to be exact). Who needs the NEA? We know Texans have money; we just need to figure out how to get them to give to the arts. UT apparently is on the right track, having secured a $3.5 million gift from an anonymous donor to create a center for interactive arts. If local arts organizations can get more individuals and all those new computer companies that are moving here to support the arts, they'll really be in business.

6. More media. The key to promoting the arts and educating the audience is good coverage in the press, and Austin has seen a lot more print space devoted to the arts this year. Witness our new design, with Robert Faires' "Articulations" column, more reviews, and more serious arts reporting; more beefed-up coverage in the Statesman with XL and several major arts features and news stories from Michael Barnes; KGSR plugging local arts; and KVRX and KOOP coming on the air with some arts programming. Now, if we could just get the local TV stations to cover the arts more regularly....

7. Come together -- right now. Austin artists banded together in unprecedented numbers in 1995. Mostly they did so in futile attempts to save the embattled NEA and convince the city to renovate Palmer Auditorium into a performing arts center, but they also came together in networking sessions such as the TCA's first-ever statewide dance task force and a Texas dance meeting sponsored by Dance Umbrella. The more they work together, the better off we'll all be.

8. The endowment actually got money. TCA was the first state arts organization to create an endowment (so as not to rely totally on the stingy Legislature for funding) and now there's actually some money in it. TCA also started selling "State of the Arts" license plates this fall, with proceeds going to the endowment.

9. Arts got heart. And they showed it. The Austin Festival of Dance raised $125,000 for AIDS Services of Austin this year and at the same time provided Austin with its best evening of dance all year -- featuring local arts companies and world class groups such as Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane & Company.

10. Arts got a sense of humor. Maybe it was the whole depressing NEA thing, or maybe arts organizations just realized that they need to lighten up a little to attract audiences. Whatever, ALO kept filling Bass Concert Hall with humorous advertising for its productions (such as Lucia's thank-you note for the knife sent as a wedding present) and Austin Contemporary Ballet jumped in with its "Tight Lycra" ads. Beloved ballerina Margot Fonteyn said it best, "I always take my art seriously, but never myself." n

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