The Future Is Here

In 2007, that distant tomorrow when Austin's arts dreams would be realized finally arrived

For years, folks in the cultural community have talked about "the day when," as in the day when the city gets its own performing-arts center, the day when a Downtown museum gets built, the day when the African-American and Mexican-American communities get their own cultural centers, and so on, and so on – the point being that once this or that project was finally completed, that would be the point when the Austin arts scene would really take off, would be recognized on the level of the Austin music scene, nationally and even internationally. The problem, however, was that so many of these projects took so many years to be realized – delayed by troubles marshaling public will, city support, or funding – that "the day when" always seemed to be some distant tomorrow, barely visible in the city's future.

But in 2007, we saw one of the oldest of those projects – the Mexican American Cultural Center, 30 years in the making – finally open and with it the opening of Salvage Vanguard Theater's first home venue in 13 years of producing theatre and Ballet Austin's Butler Dance Education Center, a spacious Downtown facility that finally frees it from the cramped quarters of its longtime home on Guadalupe. With the Long Center for the Performing Arts set to open next spring and the completion of the Blanton Museum of Art due next summer, it became clear that "the day when" was no longer this vague out there; it was here.

Of course, one could argue that the Austin arts scene has been taking off for quite some time, and the year offered more evidence of that: loads of recognition on the national scene (Lawrence Wright and Steven Tomlinson both taking homegrown one-man shows to New York in the spring, the local visual-art scene being profiled in Art in America magazine, the Ransom Center acquiring David Mamet's archives, the city's prominent participation in the yearlong national theatre event 365 Days/365 Plays) and increasingly, on the global scene (Austin Lyric Opera staging the U.S. premiere of Philip Glass' new opera, Waiting for the Barbarians; the Rude Mechs taking Get Your War On to Finland and Edinburgh, Scotland; Conspirare getting picked up by the Harmonia Mundi label and being invited to the 2008 World Symposium on Choral Music in Copenhagen, Denmark).

Still, 2007 seemed to offer more of a sense that Austin's arts community was coming to the end of one era and beginning another. Part of that came from the loss of several longtime legends on the scene: performers Karen Kuykendall and Joe York, drama teacher Ruth Denney, artist and art teacher Gibbs Milliken. Part of it came from the changes in institutions of long standing: the closing of pioneering Fire Island Hot Glass Studio and Sharir + Bustamante Danceworks, the reinvention of the 50-year-old Austin Fine Arts Festival as Art City Austin, and the departure of more than a dozen cultural leaders from organizations and institutions they had worked with for years (see "Monumental Shift," Dec. 28). Part of it came, too, from an influx of new players in those same organizations and institutions and a major effort throughout the entire year by cultural advocates, artists, and arts administrators across the community (including this writer), who have been hard at work on CreateAustin looking at the next 10 years and what we want the arts scene to grow into.

It all points to the old days of waiting for dream projects to be finished being over. We may not have the flying cars, but the future has arrived.  

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Austin arts scene, Mexican American Cultural Center, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Ballet Austin Butler Dance Education Center, Long Center for the Performing Arts, Blanton Museum of Art

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