Positively Operatic

The Year in Austin Culture

Last year, while most of the Y2K-wary world was steeling itself for big changes to come after December 31, Austin's arts community was already in the thick of them. Big changes were everywhere on our cultural scene in 1999: in spaces, in organizations, in arts leadership, in financial support. Landmark arts spaces vanish! Longtime executive directors depart! Multi-million dollar gifts given! It was as if the whole arts community had gone suddenly operatic -- no more minor moves and small turns, only grand entrances and exits, and arias to shatter our ears. The community's losses over the course of the year seemed unusually dramatic: the closings of Black Mountain Arts, the Public Domain Theatre on Congress, Lyons-Matrix Gallery, Galeria Sin Fronteras, and Electric Lounge; the succession of resignations by executive directors (Access Austin Arts, Austin Circle of Theatres, Austin Legal and Accounting Assistance, Austin Script Works, and Austin Visual Arts Association); the moves to shift artistic direction at State Theater Company and Ballet Austin; the deaths of Gary Peden, Margaret Wiley, William Race, Douglass Green, Janet McGaughey, and Clayton McGran; and the ugly fallout of the Blanton Museum of Art design controversy, with the loss of Herzog & de Meuron as architects and Lawrence Speck resigning as dean of UT's School of Architecture. But just as dramatic -- sometimes even more so -- were the gains: the renovated State Theater, Flatbed World Headquarters, Norwood Gallery, One World Theatre; Bonnie Cullum acquiring her Planet Theatre space, now The VORTEX; Rude Mechanicals acquiring The Off Center; Austin Lyric Opera breaking ground for its new headquarters; the arrivals of Sue Graze as executive director at TFAA, Julie Mann as managing director at Frontera, Ann Ciccolella as managing director at Zachary Scott Theatre Center; Dana Friis-Hansen as Chief Curator at Austin Museum of Art, and Robert Freeman as dean of the UT College of Fine Arts; the debut of a new professional theatre company, Actors Repertory of Texas; and the amazing support for the renovation of Palmer Auditorium, with the astonishing $20 million gift from Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long. It's staggering to think that all this took place in a single year. In another city, or even here in another time, so many seismic shifts might have signaled a fundamental instability in the arts scene. But for Austin in 1999, the slew of Big Changes were evidence of the dramatic growth taking place in the cultural landscape, growth that will lead to even more major shifts in 2000 and beyond. The scene may have gone operatic, but the fat lady didn't sing. Far from it; we heard the start of a new act for Austin arts.

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