Arts & Culture
2015 Readers Poll
2015 Critics Picks
Best Actor

Did you have to see Mothers and Sons at Zach to realize what a consummate and serious actor Burke is? Because you were so used to his acerbically hilarious tour-de-force as Crumpet the Elf in the annual production of David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries? Well, now you know – it's not all in the timing, it's also in the skill and concentration and sheer, relentless talent that this popular performer brings to whatever role he's cast in.

Best Actress

What's that thing about big dynamite in small packages? Gricelda Silva, long a prime actor in this town's theatre scene, pretty much exploded across stages everywhere this year. Whether working the papier-maché creatures of Trouble Puppet or Glass Half Full, playing the wicked child in Reina Hardy's Changelings at the Vortex, dealing with her Cinderella stepfamily in Zach Theatre's Cenicienta, or helping modernly Mexicanize Chekhov in Teatro Vivo's El Nogalar, the vivacious performer's impact has left our city smiling and amazed.

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Arts Festival

Meandering: The human activity of meandering binds the two winners of this category. You'll need a map to navigate the entirety of East Austin Studio Tour (but if you hit the artist-dense Pump Project and Canopy, you'll have plenty to see), while the Pecan Street Festival is easy (as long as you remember that Sixth street used to go by a different name). Either way, you'll be up-close and personal with the artists and craftsfolk whose wares you're perusing – the best way, by any stretch of the legs, to see and buy art.

East Austin Studio Tour
916 Springdale Bldg. 2 #101

Pecan Street Festival
Sixth Street from Brazos to I-35

Best Classical Performer(s)

We raise a chorus of hallelujahs to the vault of heaven when considering the vocal wonders this world-premiering, Grammy-winning, Billboard-charting choral group led by the ever-ebullient Craig Hella Johnson has done in and for our music-loving town. Whether working with outside composers (Nico Muhly) or guest vocalists (Ruthie Foster) or just doing their own glorious eclectic thing, Conspirare not only breathes but soars on wings of polyphonous song.

505 E. Huntland #155

Best Clothing Designer

Walk into Gail Chovan's Blackmail Boutique on SoCo and you will immediately sense history on a hanger. There are the broad sweeping lines of Gothic architecture evinced in a lengthy dress – her inspiration, perhaps, coming from Notre Dame and the other buildings in Paris, where Chovan often summers. And then there's this meticulous maven's punky pomo deconstruction, a call-out to our contemporary moment. Regardless, Chovan is blessed with the broad sweep (of history).

1202 S. Congress

Best Comic Artist or Graphic Novelist

With a lean toward sci-fi and the surreal, Tim Doyle’s work is delightfully out of this world. Star Wars and superhero fans alike will want a print (or five) of his fan art, and Doyle’s concert posters would make stylish additions to any music lover’s home. As a kid, Doyle only found joy “in comic books and television and video games.” Thankfully for the rest of us, he’s brought that joy to the Austin art scene.


Best Composer

Austin's Teutonic-looking maestro with the long hair and snazzy suits, ah, is there a busier composer in the Western world? Writing scores for feature films, conjuring soundtracks for theatre and dance companies, journeying to Japan to provide music for Allison Orr's choreographing of a professional baseball team, partnering with Peter Stopschinski to raise the roof with their Golden Hornet Project, readying to wrap up the final part of his Marfa Triptych, holding down a monthlong residency with his Golden Arm Trio at Dive Bar in August – no wonder our readers give Reynolds the biggest ups here.

Graham Reynolds

Best Dancer or Dance Company

Artistic Director Stephen Mills exploded onto the Austin arts scene during the 1999-2000 season, eventually landing his current role, attracting attention across the country with his world-premiere production of Hamlet, featuring the music of Philip Glass. The show returned for the 2015 season. Mills' sinewy, sexy, (and not infrequently, sassy) work can be seen in the upcoming Snow White or in the perennially popular Nutcracker. The company doesn't just keep audiences on the edge of their seats, they also make Austin dance positively interactive. Visit them once and you will see, from baby ballerinas doing pliés and tendus to Pilates professionals doing twists and reaches. The studios are massive, as is the schedule of classes and workshops. Whether you are interested in ballet, hip-hop, hula, jazz, or simply just working out, Ballet Austin spreads the love of dance and invites the public in.

Ballet Austin
501 W. Third

Best Independent Art Gallery

Establishing a space for the visual legacy of female artists isn't just a mission, it's a vision. For over 37 years (and still going strong), Women & Their Work has been an exhibition space for contemporary art that is innovative and original. Their yearly open calls ensure that their programming ranges in material and content, and their 1,700-square-foot gallery is perfect for site-responsive works, such as the dark and moody cityscape in Kira Lynn Harris' Glittering Dystopias.

Women & Their Work
1311 E. Cesar Chavez

Best Live Comedy Show/Series

Named after actress and swimmer Esther Williams, Esther's Follies revels in the range of high satire and low-brow cheeky humor. Things have gone swimmingly for yuksters Shannon Sedwick, Ray Anderson, Michael Shelton, and the crew. The colorful cast of this modern-day vaudeville venue has incorporated improv, political satire, magic, alcohol, and juggling for more than 30 years: a combination for success. Anything and everything can (and has) happened here.

Esther's Follies
525 E. Sixth

Best Local Author/Poet

From the small stage to the big screen to the fine print, Owen Egerton has razed a long-running trail of hilarity through Austin. While best known for co-founding Master Pancake, his comedic skill shines through in his writing, How Best to Avoid Dying and Everyone Says That at the End of the World. Warner Brothers also has a fondness for Egerton, and is developing a TV series based on his novel The Book of Harold.

Best Museum

The best part of being a student at UT is the free entry into one of the largest university art museums in the country. Before you even get to the featured artwork, a beautiful staircase surrounded by walls of gradient, sparkling blue tile greets you – itself a work of art, Stacked Waters by Teresita Fernandez – inspiring awe. The permanent collection of art is profound and unforgettable, but leaves art lovers yearning to come back for another look. Thoughtful and diverse, fancy and fun, the Blanton is a place to learn, to look, to love, and it just keeps on getting better.

The Blanton Museum of Art
200 E. MLK

photo by John Anderson

Best None of the Above Show

This year's been a year of heady experimentation for the BedPost Confessions crew. The groundbreaking show is now held quarterly, making room for new ventures such as (un)Spoken, a venue for the topics rarely touched upon in polite conversation (mental illness, pregnancy, the loss of love). We sense a pupal metamorphosis … a new becoming, and with it, even more opportunities to stun Austin audiences with the power of story.

Bedpost Confessions

Best Performance Space

You got your majestic 2,442-seat Michael & Susan Dell Hall, your black boxy Debra & Kevin Rollins Studio Theatre that can seat 229, your City Terrace (our town's front porch), courtyard, and West Lawn: The Long isn't just Austin's best performance space, but it's our city's hallowed hall of performance spaces, just ask residents Austin Symphony, Ballet Austin, Austin Lyric Opera, and recurring SXSW guest Jimmy Kimmel who brings his late-night antics to town – among others. No seat is a bad seat at the Long Center, even if you're standing. And the view of the Austin skyline from this iconic building is stunning – a performance on its own.

Long Center for the Performing Arts
701 W. Riverside

Jana Birchum

Best Street Artist

Mike "Truth" Johnston's work is gleefully dweeby: a "Last Supper" featuring the characters of Nintendo's Mario franchise, the Notorious B.I.G. wearing a cartoon crown, and bulky creatures with massive overbites. On the other end of the street art spectrum is the graphic/expressionist paintwork of Chris Rogers. Mashing up a multitude of musical heroes (James Brown, Michael Jackson, and others) his almost brushy mural at 12th & Chicon is a good summation of this street artist's skill. Although, if we have to claim a favorite mural of this prolific painter, it's the one that graces the facade of the incomparable Nubian Queen Lola's.


Chris Rogers

Best Theatre Director

What it is about Zach Theatre that grabs the attention of dramaphiles not just locally but across the country? Well, the sizzle's in the Steakley. For almost a quarter of a century, Dave Steakley has been staging plays that dazzle eyes and ears while engaging hearts and minds. Whether he's reimagining a classic, as with his contemporary pop-infused A Christmas Carol, mounting an epic look back at history, as with his regional premiere of the Tony Award-winning civil rights drama All the Way, or providing an intimate look at family, as in the domestic drama Mothers and Sons, Zach's producing artistic director makes theatre that's vibrant and vital. On the shores of Lady Bird Lake, he's built a powerhouse playhouse.

Dave Steakley
Topfer Theatre at Zach
202 S. Lamar

Jenn Hassin (l) and Jennifer Balkan   Devaki Knowles

Best Visual Artist

The two local artists who share the award for Best Visual Artist this year each have their own thing going in terms of media and subject matter: Jenn Hassin uses handmade paper that she meticulously rolls and piles onto surfaces until they roil with movement, reflecting on war and loss. Jennifer Balkan's painted portraits of women (often tatted and pierced) wearing animal noses and Groucho glasses are riffs on something surrealist/proto-feminist artist Claude Cahun said nearly 75 years ago: "Under this mask, another mask."

Jenn Hassin

Jennifer Balkan

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