Arts & Culture
2004 Readers Poll
2004 Critics Picks
Best Art Direction

Always greater than the sum of its acronym, Austin Latina/o Lesbian Gay Organization exceeds the breadth of a traditional queer community group. Now, since their move to the old Mrs. Baird's bread factory on Tillery, their sharpened focus on the arts has sparked new energy. The new Tillery Street Theater as a viable event, performance, and music venue and community-space-for-hire sure didn't hurt, but we think it's more about the programming. Under the direction of the artist-in-residence, local arts avatar Sharon Bridgforth, the injection of artist dialogues, collaborative performances, intensive workshops, and sizzling community dances into ALLGO's already hotly anticipated calendar (Baile de Amor, Dia de los Muertos, Pride Fandango, etc.) makes the case that yes, organizing around the political is all well and good, but you can't build deeply rooted community without culture. Give someone a slice of bread? You've given them survival. Give someone a generous hunk of lovingly hand-kneaded, multigrained, cornmeal-dusted dough loaded with nuts and berries, bake it to golden, break it with them, and put a mango on top? You've given them a meal.

Tillery Street Theater
701 Tillery

Best Art Show and Party

The entries – by hundreds of artists – are all in a 5-by-7 format. The range of work in every possible medium is staggering, from some of the finest artists across the country ... and everything is $100. But that's just the exhibition. For the opening fundraising party, the works are tagged and prospective buyers jealously hover over the piece they have staked out ... and then all hell breaks loose at the designated moment when everybody lunges for the piece they desire, causing a near-riot as they snag the coveted piece. It is a party and exhibition not to be missed – a true Austin event.

The Contemporary Austin
700 Congress

Best Brush-Up on Your College Degree

UT Classics professor Michael White came into national prominence in 1998 with the PBS miniseries From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. An expert in first-century philosophy and culture, White explains the rise and development of Christianity as a product of its era — and sends those folks in the "it's all in the Bible" camp reeling. An accomplished scholar and engaging speaker, White lectures monthly at St. David's Episcopal Church – for free. Bring a notebook. You will want to write things down. And yes, your gray matter may throb a little bit for the first time in a while.

St. David's Episcopal Church
301 E. Eighth

Best Cultural Arts Meeting Space

The wonderfully off-the-beaten-path coffeehouse/arts center/meeting space isn't likely to stay a secret much longer. Located just east of I-35 on Oltorf, it offers an impressive array of meeting rooms for a handful or a hundred – plus a built-in theatre. Downstairs is a coffeeshop with Blue Bell ice cream, salads, cappuccino, panini sandwiches, and plenty of space to kick back with friends or your laptop – it's wi-fi, naturally!

Best Excuse to Drink Guinness in November

After years of being rained out and flooded in various locations, the Austin Celtic Festival found a home at Fiesta Gardens four years ago, and the sun began to shine. This confluence of Celtic music and culture offers not just music from the Seven Nations but a variety of activities and events for all ages. Dog breeds on display, Highland Games, theatrical performances, a children's stage, musical workshops, and storytelling are but part of the weekend, with fine music from noon 'til the stars come out.

Austin Celtic Association
PO Box 684163

Best Film Location

The grounds are a bit run down, part of the aesthetic and part of the charm of the Sri Atmananda complex that rests like an old but elegant dame at the corner of Red River and 41st. Like Norma Desmond, she's shrouded in her fading vanity, cracked facades, overgrown foliage, and all. But unlike the deliciously lascivious Gloria Swanson character, the Perry Mansion does not have to wait for lights, camera, or action, because major motion picture studios already know what a great spot this is to create the type of allure and magic that only Hollywood can. This past year, the hunky Wilson brothers shot The Wendell Baker Story there, and Tim McCanlies' Secondhand Lions, starring Robert Duvall and Michael Caine, was filmed in the manse and on the grounds. The visually arresting fountains, loggia, intricate tile work, and mix of architectural design, make this entire 10-acre compound and especially the 10,800-square-foot palace ready for its close-up, Mr. DeMille.

Sri Atmananda
4100 Red River

Best Film School for Your Average Joe

As one student puts it, “Steve Mims moves about the classroom like a cat. A true professional in a dog-eat-dog world.” You don't even have to be an artsy-fartsy college film student. These classes are intended for anyone interested in digital video and filmmaking. What you’ll learn will have you competing with the pros in 14 short weeks. Other teachers include up-and-coming documentarian David Layton and cinematographer Deb Lewis.

Austin FilmWorks
Guadalupe Arts Building, 1705 Guadalupe

Best Locally Produced Literary Anthology

Don't let the title fool you into thinking this is a joke punk cynical jackoff. Edited by Hoa Nguyen and Dale Smith, the 'Poss is one of the most lively and intensely literate anthologies produced in the world. Always smart, challenging, and never complacent, their reputation among serious, professional poets is sterling and deservedly so. Smith was included in Best American Poetry of 2002, edited by Robert Creeley, and is on the all-new Editor’s Roundtable of 2005 Poet's Market. They also bring some of the finest internationally respected poets to town for quiet, usually way underattended shows held at 12th Street Books. Don't expect slam style and don't expect one-dimensional confessionalism. As Smith said in an interview published in the Baltimore Sun in 2000, "It's great that poetry is popular, but what is it that's being recognized as poetry?" It's his contention that true poetry is neither easy nor accessible. We agree wholeheartedly. What it is is magic that is terribly dangerous. And Skanky Possum is dangerous and extraordinarily necessary for these dangerously mediocre times.

Skanky Possum
2925 Higgins

Best Muggle Reimagining of Magicians

When critics went apeshit over Alfonso Cuarón directing a more adult Potter film – well, adult in the sense of serious drinking and salty language – little did they know someone had beat him to it. Brad Neely's Wizard People, Dear Reader is a hilarious homemade commentary CD, meant to be synced up to the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone DVD. Yet Neely's take forsakes accuracy for emphasis on Harry's (and, as it sounds, also the narrator's) imagined battle with the bottle, and botched names and motivations (Hagrid recast as the mentally challenged Hagar the Horrible – wait, that's pretty close). Originally available as a humble freebie rental at local stores, Wizard People has gone on to screen at the New York Underground Film Festival, garnered attention from The New York Times, and is now available for download worldwide at If that's not enough, Neely's surreal, single panel Creased Comics series has graduated from The Daily Texan to that dictator of all things hip, Vice magazine. Rowling would be proud ... if she's not already suing his ass.

Brad Neely

Best Promoter of the Bard

Clayton Stromberger is a driving force in getting kids in Austin to live, breathe, and love Shakespeare. From his afterschool workshops to his outstanding job of leading the youth Shakespeare at Winedale program in the summers, it's always a Bard Day's Night when Clayton is in the room.

Shakespeare at Winedale, University of Texas, 1 University Station, B5000, Austin, 78712, 471-4726

Least Frenetic Art Crawl

No boutique strip, loud bands, street vendors, or public urination (that we saw, anyway) – just an amazing swath of art in its natural setting: a sprawling series of sweet East Austin homes, studios, and warehouses (you know, the kinds of places where artists can afford to live and work). EAST’s biannual showcase can run a gamut from renaissance man Ethan Azarian’s warm, quirky paintings to the sculptural furniture of the Splinter Group to the always impressive collage work of Sodalitas Art Group, and well beyond; collectively, it’s a thoroughly entertaining glimpse into a vibrant, accessible beehive of creativity. The third EAST takes place Nov. 20.

East Austin Studio Tour
916 Springdale Bldg. 2 #101

Critics: Architecture & Lodging
Critics: Entertainment

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