Come Together

In 2006, Austin turned out for the arts by the tens of thousands

For anyone who ever worried that the local arts scene is supported by only about 50 people, 2006 was the year that proved otherwise – in a big way. On the streets and at the polls, Austinites demonstrated their interest in the arts in numbers beyond what you'd find at the most crammed of Longhorn football games. This stunning level of cultural support was evident from the very first day of the year – well, okay, technically, the last day of 2005 – when the debut of the cultural festival First Night drew more than 100,000 people (by some estimates, 130,000 people) over a 10-hour period. That was followed just a few months later by the if-you-build-it-they-will-come phenomenon when the new Blanton Museum of Art opened its doors; more than 22,000 folks showed up for the first day, and they've just kept coming in the eight months since: more than 100,000 of them. Then in November came the vote on Proposition 4, the part of the city's 2006 bond package dedicated to cultural facilities. It was the first vote on the arts in almost a decade and, as with First Night, no one really knew what to expect in terms of turnout. The results were similarly impressive: Just less than 90,000 Austinites said yes to the arts, delivering a decisive victory for the proposal.

The Blanton garnered the most media attention (and deservedly so), but it was hardly the only cultural facility to debut in 2006. Also coming online were City Theatre, ColdTowne Theater, Donkey Show, the Larry L. King Theatre at Austin Playhouse, Mass Gallery, Okay Mountain, Salvage Vanguard Theater, and Volitant Gallery, to name a few. Their addition to the scene helped take some of the sting out of the loss of other spaces, most notably Center Studio, the downtown home for dance that Ellen Bartel managed for a decade, which was closed after a fire in January; and the State Theatre, which was damaged by a flood in June and six months later is still empty, its staff having been dismissed.

On a more positive note, the year saw significant recognition for local artists and arts companies keep coming from outside sources: a Grammy nomination for choral ensemble Conspirare; the Osborn New Play Award for Steven Tomlinson's American Fiesta from the American Theatre Critics Association; massive grants for Conspirare, Tapestry Dance Company, and the Zachary Scott Theatre Center from the National Endowment for the Arts to support their work with American masterpieces. New York's Public Theater tapped the Rude Mechanicals to bring their production of Get Your War On (which the Rudes have toured to Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Houston; and Marfa) to its Under the Radar festival, and Disney tapped Austin High to help premiere its stage version of the megasuccessful High School Musical.

And lest we forget, 2006 was the year Austin got to know Dmitri Shostakovich. Thanks to an idea by Austin Lyric Opera Artistic Director Richard Buckley, more than a dozen area arts organizations joined forces to commemorate the Russian composer's 100th birth anniversary with performances of his work all year long. From January through December, audiences could experience every kind of work by Shostakovich from every stage of his career. Given that the festival wasn't driven by any one group or individual, it called for an extraordinary level of cooperation and community among artists and organizations. How fitting that in a year notable for so many Austinites coming together for the arts, the artists came together, too. end story

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Austin arts support, Austin arts attendance, First Night Austin, Blanton Museum of Art, Shostakovich 100

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