Arts & Culture
2014 Readers Poll
2014 Critics Picks
Best Captains of the Cap

Fine art is dead art. Locked up in museums, away from ordinary life. Finished and "complete," inert once it is hung on the wall or displayed in a case. SprATX does not make fine art. SprATX makes living art. Art that is in the streets, art that is active and ephemeral. This collective of street artists, muralists, and creatniks channel their aesthetic energies into visual works that benefit the community: live street-art exhibitions, pop-up galleries, and custom mural paintings for local shops, events, and charities. Probably the coolest thing SprATX (pronounced spray-tee-ex) does, though, is #atxfreeartfriday. Every Friday, local artists create and hide art to be discovered. Search the tag on Instagram to seek clues or contribute your own work. Art free like a wild stallion. Art free like a complimentary continental breakfast.

2400 E. Cesar Chavez #316B

Best Choral Wrangler

Big doesn't bother Brent Baldwin. A three-part, two-hour 19th century oratorio on the creation of the cosmos? No problem. A seven-section 20th century experimental epic translation of Confucius lasting seven hours? Sure. A 12-movement riff on Mozart's Requiem, with contemporary composers filling in the gaps left empty when Wolfgang Amadeus died? Bring it. The fact that this fearless leader of Texas Choral Consort has not only tackled these monumental projects and more, but typically done so while conducting an orchestra of two to three dozen instrumentalists and a choir of up to 150 singers marks him as a master of choral coordination. He's able to draw from these massed voices booming thunder, angelic sweetness, and dying whispers on a breeze, with a striking richness of balance and harmony. Bigger isn't always better, but when Baldwin is wrangling the choir, it may well be best.

Texas Choral Consort

Celesta Danger

Best Dress Blues

We love a man in uniform. Especially a man who dresses in full blue Union woolies in 100-degree heat ready to tell the true tales about the glories of America's Buffalo Soldiers. Brave men of color fought to preserve a union that still struggles with manifesting true equality (or let's not mince: still actively oppresses) today. Allen Mack, the man behind Austin's Living History Foundation, often can be seen in his full regalia at the corner of MLK & Airport raising money and awareness to send the 62nd United States Colored Troop to Corpus Christi (May, 2015) to participate in the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Palmito Ranch – the only battle in Texas involving "colored" troops and the last battle fought in the Civil War. While wars are exactly the sort of histories we hope never to repeat, learning the truths about them can lead to understanding which can begin to right the wrongs.

Living History Foundation
1180 Graham

Best East 11th Holdouts

The redevelopment of East 11th has occurred in fits and starts, but the fact that it's moving ever further from its roots as a predominantly African-American business and entertainment district has been obvious (and rather disconcerting) for a while. All the better, then, that its loft- and cocktail-seekers can still experience the historic Victory Grill, holding steady with renewed food service and and uptick in backroom shows, and adjacent outdoor venue Kenny Dorham's Backyard, the only place on the street that still features steady bookings of African-American music, as well as welcoming neighborhood events. It remains to be seen how long these places will exist, but the cultural work they do in the meantime is invaluable.

Victory Grill
1104 E. 11th

Kenny Dorham's Backyard
1106 E. 11th

Bret Brookshire

Best Electrical Conductor

The charge you feel – the one that sets your hairs on end and skin tingling – when you're present for an Austin Lyric Opera production has everything to do with the music coming from the orchestra, and that has everything to do with the maestro leading it. In the decade that he's been wielding the baton for ALO, Richard Buckley has proven to have an innate feel for opera's heightened emotion and high drama – it runs like a current through his veins. And it doesn't matter if the composer is Donizetti or Verdi, Mozart or Glass, he's able to communicate all its beauty, power, tension, lyricism, humor, and heartbreak to the musicians under his command so that they transmit it to our ears in sounds that thrill. Since Buckley's been in the pit, opera has never sounded so ravishing and intense – and electrifying.

Richard Buckley
Austin Lyric Opera
901 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Film Festival Moment

Tearing ourselves away from a scintillating conversation at the Austin Film Festival with directors Paul Thomas Anderson and Jonathan Demme in order to arrive on time for a unique screening of Dario Argento's Suspiria with the original members of Goblin playing their haunting soundtrack live at the inaugural Housecore Horror Film Festival was one of those quintessential Austin moments that reminds us of Austin's incredible bounty of cultural riches.

Housecore Horror Festival
1801 Salina

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Label-Defying Art Faun

When we look at the world (bleak, grim) and think, "Where is the art?", we just close our eyes, click our heels thrice, and repeat this mantra: Aaron Flynn! Aaron Flynn! Aaron Flynn! How to categorize the output of this wunderkind? Painter of totemic animalistic heraldry, window-dresser extraordinaire (the window of Parisian-influenced Blackmail is a regular Flynn "canvas"), concert-poster ideographer, frequent collaborator (Ben Aqua, Billy Beasty, amongst others) – in other words – life magician. And like the best conjurers, one isn't aware of the mountains of work (Sweat! Tears! Nail Polish!) that go into such arty productions, only that the world is made better, brighter, and entirely anew with each flourish of this foppish faun's fingers.

Best Multimedia Meme

Is it any wonder that cats and dogs are plastered all over the Internet? As a species, we’ve been gaga over them for quite some time. The Blanton got to the heart of our complex intergenus relationships with its summer exhibit “In the Company of Cats and Dogs,” featuring a deftly curated array of artists and media, from Egyptian cat sculptures to Internet videos: Hogarth engravings and weird Dutch protosurrealism; Wegman’s photographs (of course), but also Picasso’s poodle collage and Goya’s storm clouds. Topping it off? A hashtagged contest featuring viewers’ photo re-creations of a work from the show. #Squee.

The Blanton Museum of Art
200 E. MLK

Best Place to Spit a Rhyme

Jonesing for some great up-and-coming rap without the trek to Houston? Look no further than the Austin Mic Exchange. Each week, this group invites artists from across the city to showcase their best rhymes in a freestyle showdown at the Spider House Ballroom in an effort to bring together previously disparate elements in the scene. In just two years, the event has become a central hub of Austin hip-hop spit and artistic exchange – they even have plans to host their first Weird City Hip Hop Festival this fall. For their weekly gigs, it's best to arrive early, because each night kicks off with warm and welcoming cypher outside the venue. Bring your rap game, your dance shoes, and prepare to enter Austin's hip-hop critical mass.

Austin Mic Exchange

Best Produce Aisle Aria

Tosca is one of the most popular operas performed in the United States and has done much to translate the art's charms for modern audiences. Austin Lyric Opera pushed that populism a little further last January, when it produced a flash mob at Central Market North Lamar and burst forth with an aria from that very opera. The combination of pros in their street clothes, blending in with the crowd, toasting with beer as appropriate to the lyrics, enchanting children, and being presented with flowers was sweet and stirring inspiration, if one were needed, to check out the whole performance.

Austin Lyric Opera
901 Barton Springs Rd.

Dwayne Hills, Ballet Afrique

Best Roots Revival

China Smith launched her inspiring Ballet Afrique out of a desire to create a deep cultural link for Central Texas African-Americans. Black roots are too often framed in Western terms, under the heart-aching legacy and shadow of slavery. As a young dancer, Smith studied with a melting pot of movement culture: Dallas Black Dance, Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance, Kathy Dunn Hamrick, Boyd Vance, and Alvin Ailey. African dance is her heritage, and in founding the Ballet Afrique Contemporary Dance Company (as well as the Ballet Afrique Dance Academy, with classes for all ages), she's opened space to accommodate deeper roots. Too many Austin kids of color (especially African colors) have too few higher-art touchstones beyond sports, arts & crafts, or pop culture. Smith & company exist as an homage to African roots, and a fertile soil for all ages to keep them growing.

Ballet Afrique
8011 Cameron #500

Best Use of Flamingos

Patterson Park's gone to the birds, as witness the brilliance (especially in full-on sunlight) of Stefanie Distefano's Flamingo Mitote wrapping the poolside utility building in polychrome avian finery composed of hundreds of perfectly orchestrated shards of mirror glass and tile, bringing a landmark of ceramic opulence to this beloved bastion of outdoor recreation.

Patterson Park
4201 Brookview

Best Work-in-Progress

Local literato Owen Egerton hosts this once-monthly salon featuring local pro and semi-pro writers sharing one page of a work in progress with an eager, supportive crowd. Some of the work is quite polished indeed, while some if it is, uh, nascent. But in this space, it's all good. Since its inception in late 2013, the Salon has hosted high-flying novelists like Sarah Bird, a couple of local food writers, screenwriters, political wonks, and poets. Nestled in the cozy performance/lounge space of the Whip In, Egerton leads all assembled through an evening of laughs, appreciation of craft, and wine.

Whip In
1950 S. I-35

Coolest Bookstore

When Austin's Domy Books shut down in 2013, a Kickstarter was launched by its former staff to fund a successor at the same site: Farewell Books. Just as Domy did, this progressive bookstore specializes in rare art books and esoteric tomes. The whole selection is meticulously curated to pique the interests of the urban intellectual. Essays by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze comparing capitalism and schizophrenia, a Joycean tome of gibberish wordplay called "Meatphysics," an ultraviolent graphic novel made in the style of underground zines, what appears to be an actual samizdat. And everything is in Helvetica. Farewell also doubles as a community hub for the Austin arts scene. The gallery that takes up half the building's space holds a new opening for a local artist every six weeks. Other cool arts stuff happens on the regular: release parties, poetry readings, and performances. It's safe to say that this bookstore is independent with a capital 'I.'

Farewell Books
913 E. Cesar Chavez

Todd V. Wolfson

Most-Improved Fashion Event

Yes, it started out in 2009 on a bumpy road, only catering to those who paid to participate, but each subsequent year has brought vast improvement. Fashion in Austin has evolved as fast as Austin itself, and Austin Fashion Week's goal is to make our town a couture capital. Completing it's sixth and largest year last May, AFW's Matt Swinney has wrangled a partnership with the UT Apparel Design program, including it in future fashion weeks. The goal moving forward is to constantly elevate local designers by exposing their work to all-star-level and emerging designers from outside Austin. All of this national attention is great, but where are the buyers? By expanding into Dallas and working with FIG (Fashion Industry Gallery), AFW's Dallas events this year will attract a huge buyer population, hopefully encouraging buyers to also travel to Austin next Spring.

Austin Fashion Week

Tastiest Way to Work Geek Culture Into Your Dinner

Contrary to popular opinion, geek culture isn’t a monolith. There are as many unique tastes as there are stars in the Verse – and Chris-Rachael Oseland has a dish to match many of them. The self-styled Kitchen Overlord crafts tasty plates that riff on genre subcultures in easy-to-follow recipes, many of which are cleverly illustrated by Tom Gordon. Flip for comic books? Try Deadpool’s Chimichangas. Nerd hard for sci-fi noir? Rick’s Replicant Chow Street Noodles should satisfy your yen. Sweet on epic fantasy? Take a bite out of You Know Nothing, Snow!, a gingerbread dessert. True, these recipes require more work than opening a bag of chips, but we think this is a much better way to feed your fandom.

Kitchen Overlord

Critics: Architecture & Lodging
Critics: Entertainment

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