On the Map

Austin's art scene kept catching the eye of the nation in 2005

For years, the rest of the country, when it's bothered to look at Austin at all, has seen it as a center for live music and independent film. The city's other creative enterprises – its theatre, its dance, its opera and classical music, its visual art – just didn't seem to register on the national radar. But that attitude shifted in 2005, as scarcely a week passed without some local artist or arts group grabbing the nation's attention. Austin Lyric Opera snared the American premiere of Philip Glass' opera Waiting for the Barbarians. Arthouse presented the first Arthouse Texas Prize and with it $30,000, the largest award for a regional art prize. Theatre Communications Group tapped Austin as one of three pilot cities for a national audience development campaign involving a free night of theatre. Austin hosted two national arts conferences in June. Zachary Scott Theatre Center's homegrown show about Austin, Keepin' It Weird, caught CBS's eye, scoring a segment on the network's Sunday Morning newsmagazine. Ballet Austin danced across Europe at the invitation of the State Department and made its New York debut at the Joyce Theater. Rob Nash finally got his solo epic Holy Cross Sucks! up off-Broadway and netted a bushel of Big Apple praise, while Austin's three entries in the New York International Fringe Festival earned some real attention, ranging from the respectable to a rave in The New York Times. The latest national tour of The Will Rogers Follies used the UT Performing Arts Center as its rehearsal facility, and its star, Larry Gatlin, also workshopped a new musical on Quanah Parker there. And on and on it went, marking 2005 as a year when more Austin artists got their due as worthy of national attention.

Of course, the year had its losses, starting with a fire at the Guadalupe Arts Center that displaced dozens of visual artists, artisans, arts organizations, and galleries, many of whom lost irreplaceable works and projects. And some of our most valuable creators left us, most notably Boyd Vance, co-founder, director, and heart of ProArts Collective, the city's leading cultural organization for African-Americans – a tragedy amplified by the death of another member of ProArts' artistic family, choreographer-actor Jason Ansara Brooks, during its annual production of Black Nativity, which he had directed and was performing in.

Still, the year offered more hope for the future, particularly in regard to homes for the arts. Construction of UT's Blanton Museum of Art on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard charged ahead and is on line for an April 2006 opening. The Long Center for the Performing Arts – that most watched and worried-over of local cultural facilities – kicked its fundraising back into high gear, reaching $67 million of its $77 million goal, and actually started physical construction. Even the Mexican American Cultural Center at long last broke ground last year. Perhaps the give-and-take of 2005 is best summed up by the debut of the renovated Carver Museum and Library, which now has a theatre named after the late Boyd Vance. That memorial honor still stings, because the loss of Boyd is still so fresh, but the fact that his contributions and vision will be remembered and stand over such a valuable new cultural facility will serve to inspire and challenge us in 2006 and the years to come.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Lyric Opera, Philip Glass, Waiting for the Barbarians, Arthouse, Arthouse Texas Prize, Theatre Communications Group, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Keepin' It Weird, CBS News Sunday Morning, Ballet Austin, Rob Nash, Holy Cross Sucks!, New York International Fringe Festival, The New York Times, The Will Rogers Follies, UT Performing Arts Center, Larry Gatlin, Quanah Parker, Guadalupe Arts Center, Boyd Vance

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