Real Estate and Perfect Mates

The Year in Austin Culture

Last year, monologist Steven Tomlinson charmed audiences with his solo show about finding a house and finding a partner and how both tie in to fulfilling one's dreams. He might have been writing the story of the Austin arts scene in the year 2000. For our cultural community, the past 12 months have been very much about real estate and perfect mates, as an increasing number of local arts organizations have channeled their energies into the quest for new facilities, either existing structures they can make over or new spaces they construct from scratch, and several others have engaged in the search for a new leader of some kind, possibly artistic, possibly administrative.

Over the course of 2000, the city saw the addition of four major new facilities for the performing arts: The Hideout, the Mary Ann Heller Opera Center, the Blue Theater, and the Bad Dog Comedy Theater. And along with them came further developments in another wave of arts facilities scheduled for completion over the next several years: Richard Gluckman's final designs for Austin Museum of Art's permanent downtown home; Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill's designs for the new Long Center for the Performing Arts; Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon's designs for the long-awaited Mexican American Cultural Center; the selection of Kallmann McKinnell & Wood to design the new Blanton Museum of Art; the selection of Steven Holl to design a new building for the Zachary Scott Theatre Center; progress in the renovation of AMOA's Laguna Gloria site and UT's Harry Ransom Center, both by Lake | Flato Architects; and the announcement of a new campus redevelopment plan for St. Edward's University that promises a new theatre in the next decade or so. Equally significant were the numerous changes in top personnel in various cultural organizations: the appointments of Stephen Mills as artistic director for Ballet Austin and Scott Kanoff as artistic director for the State Theater Company; the addition of Dan Dietz as co-artistic director for Salvage Vanguard Theater; and the departure of Deirdre Strand from her position as co-artistic director of Tapestry Dance Company, leaving partner Acia Gray to provide the company's artistic leadership solo; the hiring of David W. Fleming as chief executive officer of ARTS Center Stage; the additions of Latifah Taormina as executive director for the Austin Circle of Theatres and Laura Beall as executive director for the Austin Visual Arts Association; and the addition of Dan Fallon in the newly created position of chief executive officer to head first the Paramount Theatre, then the newly formed Austin Theatre Alliance formed by the historic union of the Paramount and the State.

In every case, the arts companies making these changes are doing more than just filling a personnel vacancy or changing an address; like Tomlinson in Curb Appeal, they're looking for that ideal person or building that will reflect who they are and who they want to be, that partner that will bring them closer to their dreams -- in this case, the home or individual that will enable them to realize the artistic aspirations they've held so close for so long. Taken separately, these searches can make a significant difference not only in the individual organizations but in the community overall; an upgraded facility or new artistic direction changes the character of the cultural scene, what cultural resources are available, what art is being created. Taken collectively, these searches promise a profound transformation of the local arts scene over the next several years. Come 2006, 2007, 2008, Austin will boast a very different-looking arts community, with a wealth of new museums and theatres and cultural centers, and the art that goes with them will likely appear different, too: more ambitious, perhaps, more daring, more visionary, in some ways more professional. This year was filled with exciting steps toward that era. It may be too soon to say whether all these arts groups have found the "partners" that will make their dreams come true, but their belief in them, and their willingness to commit so much of themselves to these partners filled the year 2000 with the sweet scent of promise.

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