Best of Austin 2012 Cover

Best of the Fests

You can't swing an artist without hitting a festival in this town. Welcome to 'Best of Austin,' 2012

KATE X MESSER, November 9, 2012

It's a triple-whammy for our readers this week. Many are still dancing around living rooms across Austin to Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," giddy at the news that our Mr. President gets four more years. Many will be waking up on Thursday to news that the readers and critics of The Austin Chronicle think they are pretty dandy, enough to have placed them in this annual issue that you now hold in your hands (or view on your screen). And this weekend, many will be traipsing around the Eastside, taking in the bounty of art and wildness offered by the totally free art-sprawl, the East Austin Studio Tour.

For all the well-intended, well-attended, big-money festivals Austin has officially encouraged, sanctioned, or incentivized, there are corresponding DIY offshoots and counterparts that pop up somewhat organically. Like a volunteer sapling that sprouts despite concrete and chemistry laid out to dissuade it, independent culture in Austin is a life force that says, "Move over perfect planning and extravagant budget; we are doing this our way."

This weekend and next, the ultimate artists' housewarming and quintessential example of this type of pop-up culture permeates Austin's creative soil. The East Austin Studio Tour (EAST), a progressive house party, as it were, that spreads across time (November 8-18) and space (in studios and homes and warehouses all over the Eastside). EAST was started in 2003 by Big Medium (née Bolm Studios) artists Shea Little, Joseph Phillips, and Jana Swec in an earnest attempt to foster human connection, and to bring art lovers directly into the homes and working studios of independent Eastside artists. For the better part of this past decade, EAST has accomplished this and then some, training the focus of art shows less on the expected decorum of a formal gallery setting and back to the raw and real process of creation, back to its source. In this, its 11th year, the works of hundreds of artists will be accessible by car, bike, hoof, and foot. And more importantly, these hundreds of artists themselves will be intermittently accessible to fans, friends, collectors, and scholars, the very folks who appreciate their life's work the most.

There's a modularity to EAST that is similar to our annual "Best of Austin" issue – both can be explored linearly or tangentially, by theme or in whatever order you wish to cast. Not only are "Best" and EAST sharing this weekend, but we've opened up our issue to it. Many of our sections feature special EAST-related awards.

One of our favorite things about this fest is that every year, EAST publishes a massive book – one page per artist has been the tradition – and that tome is coveted. The book is a tour in and of itself. Similarly, we love finding "Best of Austin"s on coffee tables around town months after they've come out. The longevity of this issue is legend. (Perhaps this is as good a time as any to suggest that the death of print media has been greatly exaggerated?) Ultimately, both EAST (with her sister tour WEST) and "Best of Austin" celebrate segments of and provide a fresh angle on culture worthy of the nod. And isn't that what all these crazy fests do? Celebrate their particular corners of culture?

Sure, one person's reason to get out of the house can certainly be another person's overkill. But despite our own personal yammering about how overcrowded Austin's special events calendar has become, there is a something-for-everyone, sweet, earnest dorkiness that reminds us to cut our town some slack. We are, after all, in the phase of a growth spurt that could rival any teenage overdrive – and our awkwardness and over-do-it nature is just part of our charm. No?

This year, scheduling our annual "Best of Austin" was rough. There's hardly a weekend that goes by in Austin these days without some sort of major festival, and we are forced to consider these things when gauging the impact an issue will have upon its release. This annual issue is dear to us. We work really hard on it; it takes months to produce. We want you to feel proud of it when you grab it off of your coffee table months from now to remind yourself of the things you and we hold dear. We feel it's important (and keep trying to get our bosses to see how cool it would be if they would only spring for gold leafing the pages – hell, full color or glossy pages would be nice): It's the one chance during the year to amass our readers' thoughts and feelings about Austin, beyond the din of the letters to the editor section. It's a pulse-read of our town like no other in this town. There are many imitators (gosh, we are so flattered) and many detractors (we are very sorry you did not win) and so many distractions (It's ACL! It's aGLIFF! It's Fun Fun Fun! It's the election! It's F1!), but it still boils down to that one issue a year that you, dear readers, help create.

And for that, we thank you.


The East Austin Studio Tour happens November 8-18, 2012. EAST encompasses the area east of I-35, west of 183, south of 290, and north of Lady Bird Lake/Colorado River. Artist studios and exhibition spaces will be free and open to the public on the weekends of November 10-11 and 17-18, 11am-6pm.A full event calendar of the many affiliated happenings and a full pullout map of all the participants are available in the massive EAST catalog and online at

The artful codgers of this year's "BOA":

Assistant Editor Lisa Montierth; assistants to the assistant: Andy Campbell, Rob Cohen, Jordan Gass-Pooré, Brandon Watson, and Liz Williams; personal editorial support from Mr. MCK III, without whom ...; Web dudes Brian Barry and Mike Bartnett; copy jockeys Mark Fagan, Monica Riese, Jaime deBlanc-Knowles, Josh Kupecki, and Lauren Tucker; front-desk staffers Jessi Cape, Cassandra Pearce, and Derek Van Wagner; Creative Director Jason Stout and our fabulous design team; and promotions and marketing mavens Erin Collier, Dan Hardick, and Noël Marie Pitts. Shout-outs to the diligent production crew, ad staff, interns, and editors on call. Thank you all so much!

Thank you, writers:

Nora Ankrum, Marjorie Baumgarten, Wayne Alan Brenner, Andy Campbell, Rob Cohen, Mark Fagan, Robert Faires, Jordan Gass-Pooré, Anne Harris, Shelley Hiam, Raven Hinojosa, Abby Johnston, Kimberley Jones, Michael King, Gerald McLeod, Kate X Messer, Lisa Montierth, Stephen MacMillan Moser, Tyler Pratt, Sara Reihani, James Renovitch, Frank J. Rivera, Amy Smith, Jordan Smith, Meghan Ruth Speakerman, R.U. Steinberg, Laura Walters, Brandon Watson, Richard Whittaker, Lindsey Wilder-Flatt, Liz Williams, Terry Woodroffe, and Abe Louise Young.


Many of our "Best of Austin" sections feature award winners related to the East Austin Studio Tour. In honor of the fest, we present a handy index here:

Best Domiciles for Eccentric Bats: Bat Houses, p.36

Best Way To Announce Yourself: Joe Swec Signs, p.36

Best Urban Space for an Art Walk: East Cesar Chavez, p.36

Best Arts Festival: East Austin Studio Tour, p.38

Best Place To See Local Art: East Austin Studio Tour, p.38

Best Emergent Art Collective: Kitty_City, p.44

Best Periodic Glamsplosion: Coco Coquette, p.50

Best Caffeination Station: Cenote, p.58

Best Apprenticeship Program: Girls Guild, p.69

Best Adult Freak Out: Haircuts for Children, p.69

Best 'September' Issue in November: EAST Catalog, p.75

Best Emerging Graphic Novelist: Benjamin Frisch, p.75

Best Organic Reliefs: Monique Capanelli, p.80

Best Artistic Trend in a Recession: Group Galleries/Collectives/Collaborative Studios, p.87

Best Place to Buy Artwork: EAST and WEST, p.101

Best Fashion Collective: Maison d'Etoile, p.101


Join the Chronicle's beloved regular contributing photographer Todd V. Wolfson and "Best of Austin"-winning "Best Movement Illuminator" Allison Orr for a photo gallery of a fun afternoon on the street spent choreographing newfound friends on the sidewalks of Downtown!

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