One Extreme to the Other

For Austin's arts scene, 2002 was the best and worst of years

How did old Chuck Dickens put it? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

That sense of an existence at extremes pretty well sums up the Austin arts scene in 2002. Austin Lyric Opera proved itself a vital force for new American opera with a visually stunning and forceful production of A Streetcar Named Desire, then the company's board unceremoniously dismissed the leader who brought them to national prominence, co-founder and Artistic Director Joseph McClain. Austin Musical Theatre introduced the city to two fabulous femmes, Sweet Charity and My Fair Lady, that rated not only among AMT's finest shows but among the finest musical theatre off Broadway, and nearly folded over financial losses. Dancer Christopher Hannon soared to new artistic heights as the boy who wouldn't grow up in Ballet Austin's Peter Pan, but left the company at the end of the season. The Austin Museum of Art named Dana Friis-Hansen to be its permanent director, and he mounted an exceptional survey of local artists in "22 to Watch," but the museum made no headway toward the construction of its permanent downtown home. Sally Jacques triumphantly completed her scaffold trilogy in breathtaking fashion with The Well Inside (see my Top 10 list right), only to have her work slighted by the Mixed Arts Panel in the city's typically tempestuous arts funding process. The Rude Mechanicals continued their world takeover with Midwest and West Coast tours of Lipstick Traces and sang a heartfelt ode to their Texas roots with a new original work, El Paraiso (see my Top 10 list right), only to suffer the largest loss in proposed funding for 2003 when the City Council threw out the Arts Commission's funding recommendations and substituted its own. Sigh. For every creative triumph of the year -- and they were plentiful -- there seemed to be a corresponding defeat, usually tied to the economic downturn and its problems for the arts community.

With the economy still sputtering and some of the most promising aids to the arts -- the reinvention of city arts funding, the Long Center -- still a ways off, the future remains uncertain for many companies and projects. Perhaps for that reason, it's more important than ever to glance backward; a look at the past confirms how valuable Austin's artists are to this city and how much they have enriched our lives, not just for a few moments but for lifetimes.

Below are lists from myself and Barry Pineo, covering a handful of highlights from Austin's stages in 2002. Our sincere apologies to the artists in the city's equally rich classical and visual arts scenes. We would have loved to cite their equally valuable achievements, and, in fact, lists were solicited from the writers who covered those communities, but for various reasons they chose not to submit lists this year. We will aim for a better accounting of all the arts in 2003.

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