The Austin Chronicle

More Than Survived

In dismal 2009, Austin's arts scene fared better than you might think

By Robert Faires, January 1, 2010, Arts

Well, that wasn't a very good year, was it?

So goes the thinking of most people, in the arts community and outside it, and considering the economic shitstorm we were all in throughout 2009, who can blame them? Still, the final year of the Distraught Aughts was not quite the calamity for Austin's cultural scene that many feared. Our larger institutions are still standing – are, in fact, still on pretty solid footing financially. There have been painful cutbacks and layoffs, yes, but no tsunamis of red ink swamping them as in many other cities. What losses Austin suffered were regrettable but not catastrophic: the Austin Museum of Art's cancellation (again) of its new Downtown home, Conspirare's postponement of a new work, testsite going into hibernation, Geppetto Dreams Puppet Company closing shop. We lost Arturo Palacios' gallery Art Palace, true, but to Houston, where he moved it, not to a treacherous economy.

When you review the year, Austin's arts scene was full of more good news than bad: Bass Concert Hall reopening after its 20-month shutdown; Arthouse breaking ground for its renovation; the University of Texas Department of Art and Art History building its new Lake|Flato-designed Visual Arts Center; Zach Theatre expanding its campus and getting designs for the Topfer Theatre; the hirings of Ned Rifkin at the Blanton Museum of Art, Kathy Panoff at the UT Performing Arts Center (now Texas Performing Arts), and Ann Hume Wilson at Conspirare; and more flurries of national recognition for local creatives: Conspirare's PBS special and fifth Grammy nomination, Latino Comedy Project's Emmy nomination, David Bologna's Tony nomination, Okay Mountain's Pulse Contemporary Art Fair prize, Cap City Comedy Club's Best Club to Work nod at the Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival, UT grad student Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig's two major playwriting prizes.

Our true losses were people – those who gave so much to make our creative scene one to which the rest of the country increasingly pays attention: Tina Marsh, Bill Narum, Robert Dale Anderson, Lou Perryman, Bernard Gastler, Lucia Rodriguez, Gina Ducloux, Emma Barrientos, Sara Medina-Pape, Carlos Rivera Pineda, and Shekhar Govind. They will be deeply missed, but the work they did – and the work being done by so many – helped ensure that our cultural community did more than survive this past year. It thrived.

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