The Texas CulturalTrust, an advocacy group, has set the dates for its next celebrity-sated Texas Medal of Arts Awardsceremony. The multi-part fandango — which is also intended to update state leaders on cultural funding — will take place Feb. 26-27 at the Blanton Museum of Art, Long Center for the Performing Arts and elsewhere in Austin.
The group has had no trouble attracting big names — from Willie Nelson and Eva Longoria to Walter Cronkite and Debbie Allen — to the event. The most recent blow-out at Bass Concert Hall in 2017 was a highlight of the social season.
The new event co-chairs are Leslie Blanton from the world of cultural philanthropy and Leslie Ward from the corporate (AT&T) halls of external and legislative affairs.
The group, now overseen by Executive Director Heidi Marquez Smith, has given out 108 medals since 2001 when the initial class of honorees was assembled at the Paramount Theatre. The evolving list of categories: music, film, dance, visual arts, arts patron (corporate, foundation and individual), media/multimedia, television, architecture, theatre, arts education, literary arts, design, and lifetime achievement.
The folks who run America’s historic theaters were in Austin last week. They conferred their Marquee Award on Jaston Williams, the actor, writer and director whose plays have brightened the Paramount Theatre and State Theater for more than three decades.
The members of the League of Historic American Theatres do not just preserve hundreds of the country’s older venues, they keep them breathing and alive by producing and presenting all sorts of entertainment on their stages.
Among Austin’s main historic live theaters, the State and Paramount, along with the Scottish Rite Theater (originally Turn Verein), Scholz Hall (now known as Scholz Garten) and HoggAuditorium, still see performances. The Millett Opera House stands but long ago lost its theatrical function; it now houses the Austin Club, which is reviving the memory of the building’s theatrical past. Among those lost to time: Hancock Opera House, Brauss Hall, Peck’s Hall, Austin Opera House, Long’s Opera House, Smith’s OperaHouse, Casino Theater and Capitol Theater.
Austin’s Paramount served as host of the League’s annual summer conference and at a dinner on July 15, Williams, who often worked with collaborator Joe Sears on the “Greater Tuna” comedies, picked up the honor that has gone to Hal Holbrook, Garrison Keillor and Vince Gill. The Marquee Award, established in 2012, goes to artists who inspire League members and also showcase the historic theaters where they perform.
Stars for Williams and Sears were planted under the Paramount’s marquee years ago. Three years ago, on its 100th birthday, the theater, built for vaudeville in 1915, regained it upright blade sign which once again graces Congress Avenue.
Creek Show, the annual procession of light art staged by the Waller Creek Conservancy, turned a corner of sorts last year.
What started as mostly elegant minimalist efforts along downtown Austin’s eastern waterway went maximalist in 2017 with masses of pink flags for “Night Garden” by Daniel Woodroffe (lead), Kim Harding, Francisco Rosales, Ethan Primm and Kevin Sullivan.
UPDATE: Credits for “Night Garden” appeared incorrectly in a previous version of this post.
The designs for year five — the free event will be Nov. 9-17 — were recently announced and promise to continue the large-scale experience. In 2017, more than 20,000 people attended Creek Show, sampling the kind of attractions planned for a transformed Waller Creek. For 2018, Creek Show will be in a different section of Waller Creek — between Ninth and 11th streets — and include Symphony Square, where the “Creek Show Lounge” will be located.
Here’s a look at early renderings of what’s planned for 2018, along with the teams behind the designs:
For the past five years, the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria has benefited the Contemporary Austin. Hosts expertly employ the arboreal setting on the grounds of the Clara Driscoll villa to create an elevated atmosphere at dusk and into the evening. This year, that effort included the passage of the S.S. Hangover through the lagoon with members of an Austin music collective playing a dirge-like piece.
Visual and musical artists do love a bit of theater!
Guests were in no hurry to pass up cocktails at key points in and around the villa, but the seated dinner took place under tents on the front lawn. Happily, I was placed next to designers Lydia G. Cook and Geoff Fritz from the Cambridge, Mass. firm of Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture. They helped explained the company’s master plan for the Contemporary’s Marcus Sculpture Park, including connectivity to nearby Mayfield Park.
The modest but tasty dinner arrived courtesy of restaurateur Tyson Cole along with chefs Ed Sura of Uchiko and Joe Zoccoli of Uchi. (Note to other Austin charity hosts: You don’t need a big slab of animal protein to satisfy.) The evening climaxed with an unusually civilized live auction featuring work by artists close to projects at the Contemporary.
“When all was said and done, we raised more than $500,000 in the live and silent auctions,” reported the museum’s spokeswoman, Nicole Chism Griffin. “One hundred percent of these funds will go to support exhibitions at both of our locations. We also raised $325,0000 toward the purchase of Ai Weiwei’s “Iron Tree Trunk.” Our goal had been $100,000 for the evening! This $325,000 will go toward fulfilling the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation’s challenge grant of $500,000 (for the purchase).”
I hear that some guests danced till the wee hours.
Some notes on the Austin Symphony‘s recent concert at the Long Center.
• One way to fill a house: Schedule Beethoven‘s Fifth. It is the duty of artistic leaders such as Peter Bay to expand tastes and lead audiences in new directions. Still, the Fifth — if well done, and it was — satisfies and enlightens with each fresh interpretation. It comes with the added benefit of a standing-room-only crowd.
• I’ve tried to sit in every part of the Long Center house since it opened 10 years ago. Row 4 on the orchestra level was not the right place to take in the concert’s opening piece, Michael Torke‘s “Bright Blue Music.” All I heard was the lower range of the strings and all I saw were the polished shoes of the musicians.
• Turns out the same seat was ideal for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion.” Here, only the strings really mattered and they came together beautifully in conjunction with violinist Vadim Gluzman‘s playful then profound solo turn. Booked as part of the “Bernstein at 100” celebration, this near-concerto is a gem to revive more often.
• Bay has proven time and again that he can take epic forms to ever higher heights. Last season, it was Mahler‘s Sixth, an almost brutally difficult symphony to get right. With Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, the challenge instead is overfamiliarity. Bay and his always advancing ensemble treated the first movement with rhythmic clarity, the second with architectural balance, the third with taut force and the final movement with bristling brilliance.
Margo Sawyer, the Elgin-based artist whose art intersects sculpture and architecture, has won a coveted Guggenheim Fellowship.
The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation recently announced 173 fellowships (including two joint fellowships) in arts and sciences for 2018. This honor comes with up to $45,000 to support one of the winners’ future projects.
“The Guggenheim Fellowship would allow me time and resources to cultivate designs of spaces transcendent,” Sawyer says. “Public places that foster contemplation.”
Sawyer, 59, has been on the University of Texas art faculty for 30 years. For decades, she has transformed old brick structures in Elgin into multi-use arts spaces.
She is the niece of Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas and her father was one of the first African-Americans to serve in the U.S. diplomatic corps in the 1950s. He met her British mother in Accra, Ghana. Her grandfather founded the NAACP in Topeka, Kan. and helped initiate the legal action that became Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that struck down school segregation.
Sawyer grew up the U.S., U.K. and Cameroon. In 1973, her mother took her to Egypt during the Yom Kippur War.
“I was about 15 and it was an experience that made me the sculptor I am today,” Sawyer says. “We were the first and only 17 tourists allowed in the country. I spent 30 minutes alone in Tutankhamun’s tomb — an obsession as with many people ever since. The experience at Abu Simbel, where the monuments are carved into the living rock, a union of sculpture, architecture and painting united, has been my modus operandi all my life.”
She is currently working on a glass colored spiral immersive sculpture for the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo.
“The viewer will be enveloped in a pool of color,” Sawyer says. “I just completed windows for a private chapel and also I’m working on a commission for the University of Houston all with hand-painted glass being made with Franz Mayer of Munich, who did the exquisite windows for Ellsworth Kelly‘s ‘Austin.”’
Sawyer realizes this is a big turning point during a long career of many achievements, including many works placed in private homes, museum collections and public spaces, along with wide recognition in the Austin arts community, including the Austin Critics Table designation as 2015 Artist of the Year.
“This is an amazing moment for me,” she says. “I have been making sculpture since I was 14 years old, and am honored that I have been a sculptor throughout my life. This year feels transformative and the recognition is monumental, a testament to the personal commitment and belief in the vision I have created.”
Since 2001, the Texas Cultural Trust, an advocacy group, has been honoring our state’s luminaries through the Texas Medal of Arts. The laurels are bestowed every other year at one of the most glamorous galas in Texas. The most recent one in 2017 at Bass Concert Hall was a blow-out.
Send your nominations in by April 5, 2018 for the February 2019 edition of the honors. Categories include architecture, arts education, arts patron (corporate, foundation or individual), dance, design, film, lifetime achievement, literary arts, media/multimedia, music, television, theater and visual arts.
For a complete list of past honorees, go here. The 2017 winners included Eloise and JohnPaul DeJoria with Paul Mitchell/Patron, Kris Kristofferson, Lynn Wyatt, Lauren Anderson, Yolanda Adams, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Tobin Endowmen, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Leo Villareal, Frank Welch, John Phillip Santos, Scott Pelley and Kenny Rogers.
The much-anticipated opening of Ellsworth Kelly‘s’ “Austin,” a phenomenal new building that doubles as a monumental work of art on the University of Texas campus, is not until Feb. 18. But now we can give you a look inside.
Designed by late American modern artist Kelly, the $23 million project created by the Blanton Museum of Art instantly takes its place as a crown jewel of Austin art.
Scroll down to see more photos, read what some people are saying about the work and to find out how you can see “Austin” for yourself once it opens.
“It will be a bold new landmark for the university and the city,” predicts Blanton director Simone Wicha, who spent years putting together “Austin,” colloquially known as the “Ellsworth Kelly Building” or just “The Ellsworth” or sometimes “The Kelly.” “Inevitably, it will change the way the world sees Austin.”
“Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin’ culminates the career of one of the greatest of modern artists,” says Richard Shiff, an art professor who directs UT’s Center for the Study of Modernism. “Kelly conceived of (it) as a single aesthetic experience. ‘Austin’ is culture in a pure form. Its appeal is universal.”
“‘Austin’ not only showcases Kelly’s early appreciation of historical European art and architecture,” curator Carter Foster says, “it also marries this passion with the transformative themes that he would discover over the course of his life. I hope that, with the help of this exhibition, everyone who visits the work will come away with the same sense of awe that I do.”
“The opening of ‘Austin’ further cements the Blanton as an international cultural destination,” Wicha says. “The broad geographic support we received for this project is reflective of the audience we anticipate visiting Kelly’s monumental achievement.”
HOW TO SEE ‘AUSTIN’
Starting Feb. 18, Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin’ will be open during regular Blanton hours; entry is included with museum admission. Go to the Visitors Services desk inside the museum’s east wing to obtain tickets. Find out more at blantonmuseum.org.
Kids rush into the doors and hang out the windows. Adults step gingerly over the mulch floors and step back to view the five, tall, curved, leaning structures that look like something from “Where the Wild Things Are” or “The Hobbit.”
“We let the kids in early,” says StickWork artist Patrick Dougherty. “They weren’t sure they were allowed to come in the gate.”
The fences come down today. The public unveiling is 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 10, courtesy of the Pease Park Conservancy.
“We wanted to make a cathedral,” Dougherty says. “We got five corners instead.”
The $106,000 project made from 10 tons of locally harvested then bent, woven and fastened Texas ash, elm, ligustrum and depression willow were built in three weeks by Dougherty and his son, Sam, along with volunteers and staff from Houston’s Weingarten Art Group. The site off Parkway not far from Windsor Road was picked because of accessibility and parking, but it’s also a little sheltered and not clearly visible from North Lamar Boulevard.
Dougherty, who has built 288 of these StickWork projects around the world after working on a family cabin, had always wanted to work in Austin. He says the still-unnamed group of five structures should last two years before they begin to deteriorate seriously.
The Conservancy will maintain the art, then, with the help mulch the remains to spread around the park.
This story about how Heather McKinney and Brian Carlson of McKinney York Architects helped artist and educator Katelena Hernandez Cowles and her husband, financial planer James Cowles, plan a home fit for the rest of their lives has enjoyed an afterlife on social media.
Cut straight to the crucial tip: Talk to your designer. And listen. You probably won’t be sorry.
Fourteen years ago, Katelena Hernandez Cowles and James Cowles talked and listened to Heather McKinney and Brian Carlson of McKinney York Architects. And they could not be happier with their pliable three-story Tarrytown house built above a dry creek for the couple and their two children, Celia and Gabriel.
Instead of limiting their ideas to the wants and needs of the time, they collaborated with their architects to cook up a house that they can adapt for the rest of their lives, taking into account inevitabilities such as maturing children, aging parents and life’s hard-to-predict thunderbolts.
Take their tall, airy living room flanked on two sides by hanging art and on the other two sides by a long, open kitchen and a tree-friendly deck with a fireplace. At first, the creative and energetic family furnished this inviting central room with four cozy, double-wide chairs equipped with wheels, since the room’s function fluctuated wildly.
“When kids were young, we’d clear the chairs out of the way to set up huge wooden train-track layouts and had group painting sessions with long rolls of paper, science experiments, paper airplane battles from the balcony down into washtubs on floor,” says Katelena, 46, an artist and educator. “The kids learned to ride bikes and to roller skate in a circular pattern around the central staircase. The Brazilian cumaru wood flooring was so hard it was indestructible. We finally resealed the main floor 11 years later.”