The Austin Chronicle

Setting the Stage

Austin's art scene spent 2012 prepping for big things to come

By Robert Faires, January 4, 2013, Arts

To the extent that 2012 is likely to be remembered, it will be as the year when the world famously did not end. (Sorry, Mayans, you deserved better than that.) And while the Austin arts did see some notable endings – the final issues of visual arts journals Cantanker and ... might be good; the shuttering of the Blue Theatre and Domy Books; the self-imposed termination of Palindrome Theatre; and the untimely passings of arts stalwarts Gerre Hancock, Robert Rudié, Esme Barrera, Phil Aulie, and Phyllis Slattery – our cultural community saw many more beginnings in 2012. Zach Theatre realized a 15-year dream with the opening of its third venue, the 430-seat Topfer, a space that fills a critical gap in local midsize performing-arts facilities and gives Zach all the trappings of a full-scale 21st century theatre. The Paramount Theatre elbowed its way into SXSW/ACL/Fun Fun Fun territory with the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, loading more than 100 acts into 11 venues over four days, with enough marquee names – Seth Meyers, Wanda Sykes, Steven Wright, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman – to give the event A-list appeal. After almost a decade, the folks at Big Medium gave their highly successful East Austin Studio Tour a sibling: the West Austin Studio Tour, spotlighting studios and galleries on the sunset side of I-35. Arts education received a huge boost from the Any Given Child Initiative's local launch and a $1 million private gift to establish the Austin Creative Classroom Fund, both aimed at providing an arts-rich education for every student in Austin. Several small venues debuted: Tiny Park Gallery, the Institution Theater, and a new New Movement Theater. Mexic-Arte Museum unveiled Fernando Romero's dramatic design for its new building: a five-story wheel evoking the Aztec calendar. And the Waller Creek Conservancy selected the winner in its international Design Waller Creek competition, with the vision supplied by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Thomas Phifer & Partners securing a strong presence for the arts in the future of Downtown through numerous civic spaces for cultural events along the waterway.

Of course, choosing a design is a long way from realizing it. (Just ask the folks at Zach.) This is just the starting point for the real work in transforming Waller Creek. And that goes for Mexic-Arte and Any Given Child; for the arts organizations with new leaders at their helms (Austin Lyric Opera, AMOA-Arthouse, classical radio station KMFA, and Scottish Rite Theater); and for WEST, Moontower, and the Topfer, for that matter. The true legacy of these arts endeavors, the changes they make to Austin's cultural landscape, will be determined in future years through the efforts of the creative community, the work produced through them, and, most significantly, the larger community's interest in and support of them. Ultimately, 2012 was a year about setting the stage for the transformed Austin arts scene to come.

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