Arts & Culture
1997 Readers Poll
1997 Critics Picks
Best Arts Exposure

Austin's performing artists have a priceless friend in the longtime KUT deejay. In the course of his weekday morning music (and musing) program, Aielli typically devotes a couple of hours of on-air time to actors, singers, dancers, musicians, choreographers, composers, et al., to promote their current creative endeavors. Who else in the country gives local artists 500 hours a year in exposure? Each project gets the equivalent of an in-depth print interview, but with a bonus print can't provide: the sound of the artists performing, live from the KUT studios. And Aielli's knowledge of the area arts scene and boundless passion for it take his conversations with these artists beyond the informational to the illuminating.

KUT 90.5FM
300 W. Dean Keeton

Best Arts Venue That's Way Out There And Close To Home

When VORTEX Repertory Company relocated to this barn on Manor Road a few years back and christened it Planet Theatre, it chose an especially apt moniker; watching some of the experimental work staged there - such as the cybernetic operas The Black Blood and Panoptikon - you feel as if you've beamed onto some alien world. But we count that as a good. Austin needs theatres that can propel us into "the final frontier," whatever that might be, and Bonnie Collum and her fearless VORTEX crew have made it their continuing mission to bravely go where no one has gone before. What makes it a continuing pleasure to follow them into the unknown is their heart and courtesy to patrons and gratitude at having you on their planet.

The Vortex
2307 Manor Rd.

photograph by Kenny Braun   Kenny Braun

Best Austin Film Program That Won't Be Here Next Year

When you could only see films from the New German Cinema in about five places around the country, Austin was one of them; when the Australian cinema was hot and the Hong Kong cinema exploded you could see their best efforts at the Texas Union Theater. Over the last 20 years, Steve Bearden has been on the cutting edge of American film programming. As their way of saying thanks for two decades of innovative, intelligent, impassioned programming, the University is shutting down the Texas Union Film Program at the end of the current semester.

Texas Union Theater, UT Campus, 475-6666,

Best Dressed

S. Alton Dulaney is a trip. Regularly seen with performance collaborator Lydia, at Tesoros, in PeACh (the Performance Art Church), or on his own cable access show (ACAC's Alton on the Spot), the lanky Splendora native distinguishes himself from the Great Unwashed with his impeccable sense of Haute (He looks stunning in a gown-) or Oat (-and even better in suspenders!) Couture. In the spirit of maintaining Austin's glorious reputation as Freak Central, we invite all of you to just try to outdo him.


photograph by Kenny Braun   Kenny Braun

Best Eastside Performance Space

This privately run venue provides a much-needed showcase for many of the emerging talents in the local Hispanic arts community, thanks to efforts of organizer Roen Salinas. It's possible to catch an elaborate folk dance performance by the Aztlan Dance Troupe, laugh uproariously at the comedy sketches of the CIA (Chicano Intelligence Agency), appreciate the work of local and regional playwrites or experience music and poetry readings. It's a wonderful creative incubator for arts events to be enjoyed by the entire city.

Santa Cruz Center for Culture
1805 E. Seventh

Best Ecstatic Experience

Remember singing at church on Sundays before annoying details like whether you could actually carry a tune got in the way? After hearing this gospel choir, those glory days are here again. Sparking near Dionysian delight, this choir will have you on your feet in no time, clapping, singing, and just carrying on. Praise be.

Mt. Zion Baptist Church
2938 E. 13th

Best Excuse To Throw Food

When one of Austin's smartest, most irreverent new theatre groups, Rude Mechanicals, staged Jarry's Ubu Roi last year, the idea was to replicate the riot that broke out when French turn-of-the-century audiences saw this groundbreaking absurdist play for the first time. According to Rude principal ShawnSides, the Austin audience let some hair down, yelling and throwing food provided for precisely that purpose. With plans to stage another piece of the Ubu trilogy this December, this may become an annual Christmas tradition for those of us proud to be getting coal in our stockings. And food seems to be a recurring theme for the Mechs. In their Texas transposition of the Chicago and NYC hit 30 Plays in 60 Minutes from Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the culinary connection continues: "If they sell out, they buy the audience a pizza." Cool.

The Off Center
2211-A Hidalgo

Best Hip Drama

Under the deft guidance of artistic director Jason Neulander, this troupe has burst into the forefront of a new movement in local theater - unorthodox, nomadic and ballsy. Able to cross boundaries without blurring their focus, Salvage Vanguard serves up their hip drama dark and steamy, eerie and provocative, without all the high-falutin nonsense that can make new theater so damned alienating. With their popular series of radio plays, last summer's smart, sultry Stranger Desire and this summer's taut thriller, The Ravaging, Salvage Vanguard reminds us what edgy theater can be: an invitation to places we were afraid to venture alone, a peek under the covers, an exploration of what is utterly magical, what is frighteningly real.

Best Local Arts Party

The folks at TFR really know how to throw a party! Where else could we have heard the accordion stylings of Eva Ybarra followed by award-winning author Annie Proulx reading from her novel "Accordion Dreams?" Nowhere else but the shores of Lake Austin on the splendid grounds of Laguna Gloria. And it wasn't just one hell of a two-day party, it was such a successful fundraiser, it's now an annual event. Party on.

Best Local Film Talent Incubator

We celebrate the Dobie not only because it shows so many local productions and gives so much support to local and national independent filmmakers nor simply because of its prominent role in such film events as the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival and SXSW Film- although that would be enough. The Dobie gets an award because its original scheduling and master programmer Scott Dinger offer such ongoing resources and inspirations for Austin's filmmaking and film viewing community.

photo by John Anderson

Best Micro Gallery

Entering its 14th year, Manuel's is fast approaching institution status. To celebrate, they've converted their back hallway into a micro gallery. This wee area is part of the restaurant's on-going campaign to enhance the dining experience by creating an unexpected relationship to the space. Showcasing the works of such renowed photographers as Alan Pappe, to newbies such as Billy Baque, it provides a fine way to digest.

310 Congress, 512/472-7555
10201 Jollyville Rd., 512/345-1042

Best Musical Theatre Guru

Many folks assume that all show people are gifted with a flawless sense of rhythm and pitch. T'aint so, Magee. Most belters aren't born, they're made - and it's usually a show's musical director doing the making. He's a Pygmalion, shaping a singer's talent to suit the music at hand and the sounds of all the singers into glorious blended harmony. It's no fluff job. Which makes Allen Robertson a wonder of the local stage scene. He makes everybody sound good, in every show, in every kind of show. In the past year, he crafted the sound of rousing gospel choirs in The Gospel at Colonus and piercing folk solos in Woody Guthrie's American Song. And that's just two of his eight projects last season. He knows the form like few folks in town and is unfailingly generous in his work with artists. His name in the program is a sign of excellence. Now, if we could just get some theatres to produce a few more of the musicals he's written....

Best New Direction

In April, the Austin Museum of Art named Elizabeth Ferrer as its new director. A native of East Los Angeles, graduate of Welesley College and former head of the Visual Arts Department and curator at the Americas Society in New York with a expertise in contemporary Mexican art, Ferrer should bring an new and exciting perspective to the Austin art scene.

Elizabeth Ferrer
Austin Museum of Art – Downtown
823 Congress

Best New Multi-disciplinary Space

The young owners are bandmembers in one life, gallery owners in another. They understand and have filled the niche for alternate performers, in this high-ceilinged, coffeehouse-meets-salon haven. Beyond the ongoing availabilty of alternative performances, the walls are always chock-full of cool, local-artist art. The hours revolve around upon performances and exhibits, so call first.

211 E. Sixth, 469-1745

Best Street For The Arts

As if we even have to explain this one. La Peña. Tesoros Trading Company. Mexic-Arte Museum. The Paramount Theatre. Live Oak Theatre at the State. Wild About Music Gallery. The Public Domain Theatre & Gallery. The Austin Museum of Art Downtown. The Austin Circle of Theatres office. What other street in Austin offers a couple of major museums, three theatres, a cabaret, an arts umbrella, and a handful of galleries, not to mention a number of restaurants and coffeehouses displaying work by local artists, all in fewer than a dozen blocks? It's an arts lover's dream come true, and it's just getting better. (Come on, Texas Fine Arts Association!)

Best Theatre Source

How many theatre companies are there in Austin? "Call Ann." What happened at the last Arts Commission meeting? "Call Ann." What plays are running that I can take my grandmother to? "Call Ann." No matter what question you may have about local theatre, you can bet Ann Ciccolella has the answer. And if she doesn't, she can tell you who does. The energetic executive director for the Austin Circle of Theatres stays in touch with everyone involved in the performing arts in this burg and, consequently, is on top of all things theatrical. Of course, she's more than a two-legged encyclopedia; she's an invaluable advocate for local artists, a passionate theatre artist herself (playwright, director), and a helluva storyteller. Which gives us all the reasons we need to call Ann again and again.

Austin Circle of Theatres
101 W Sixth

Best Unexpected Literary Arts Support

Laura Bush is a former elementary school librarian who is passionate about the subject of literacy. She enlisted an army of smart volunteers to fashion a festival based on successful models in other states and solicit total corporate underwriting so the proceeds could benefit Texas libraries. The big party weekend last November featured a black-tie gala with big-name Texas authors and two fun-filled days of readings, performances, booksignings, and parties celebrating Texas literary arts and artists. More than one author was heard to remark that it was the best time they'd ever had in the company of so many Republicans. We wish we had a book out so we could play, too.

P.O Box 12428, Office of the Governor, 463-2000

Critics: Architecture & Lodging
Critics: Entertainment

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