TerrenceMcNally, who grew up in Corpus Christi, ranks among the top two or three playwrights from Texas. In Austin, the Ransom Center at the University of Texas holds his papers, while Zach Theatre has become something of the official home for performances of his plays and musicals.
The two groups have teamed up to salute McNally on his 80th birthday with a weekend of activities.
Nov. 10: Theater backers and producers Carolyn and Marc Seriff give a special dinner for the playwright at their home.
Nov. 11: The Texas Union Theater will screen “Every Act of Life,” a documentary about McNally’s life. Zach artistic director Dave Steakley will interview the playwright from the stage afterwards. A reception will follow at the Ransom Center.
Nov. 12: Zach will present a birthday gala performance that will include actors Richard Thomas, F. Murray Abraham and John Glover. They will highlight the McNally’s career which includes Tony Award wins for “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Master Class,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Ragtime.”
Bloomberg Philanthropies has named 26 Austin cultural groups that will receive significant grants as well as management training as part of a $43 million second-wave campaign to strengthen small-to-medium-sized American arts nonprofits.
The charitable foundation — established by businessman and former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — chose the groups by invitation only in selective cities.
“It was a complete shock,” said Ron Berry, artistic director of Austin recipient Fusebox Festival. “I was in the office reading an article about how Bloomberg was expanding into our region and remarked to the team about how exciting that was, and then we got an email from them about five minutes later.”
“The arts inspire people, provide jobs and strengthen communities,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “This program is aimed at helping some of the country’s most exciting cultural organizations reach new audiences and expand their impact.”
In May, Austin was named alongside Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. to receive a second round of Bloomsberg grants valued at $43 million. Rare for this type of giving, the money is intended to cover operational expenses rather than specific programs.
“We wanted to reach cities that we thought had a really strong mix in the way they were serving up arts and culture,” Kate Levin, who oversees arts programs for Bloomberg, told the New York Times in May.
Previously, the program had given $65 million to smaller groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In response to the news, Austin arts leaders talked about immediate needs, such as rent or replacement facilities and equipment, but also longer term strategies like marketing and development.
“Because our building has been sold, we must move in two years,” said Chris Cowden, longtime leader of Women & Their Work Gallery.”We have decided that, to avoid ever higher rents and the instability that brings, we must buy a building. Since the Bloomberg grant is earmarked for operating expenses, money that we would normally have to use for rent and salaries can now be set aside in a fund that will be used to buy that building.”
Finding new audiences is a high priority for long-established groups that have not reached their potential in the community.
“We are investing most of the funds into marketing because that is what we believe will make the strongest impact,” said Ann Ciccolella, artistic director of Austin Shakespeare. “I am personally thrilled! It’s taken a long time to get to a $500,000 budget and now it’s time for growth. With so many arts groups in the city learning new tactics together, I am hoping for powerful results.”
For some groups, the grant money takes a back seat to training. Bloomberg’s arts innovation and management program was devised by DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland.
“The grant comes with a wealth of consulting services and access to experts in the fields of marketing and development,” said Michelle Schumann, artistic director of the Austin Chamber Music Center. “I’m really thrilled to have the opportunity to ‘up our game.’”
The Bloomberg group instructs recipients to keep mum about the gift amounts, but an informal poll suggests that the grants equal 10 percent of their existing operating budgets.
“I am pumped,” said Jenny Larson, one of Salvage Vanguard Theater‘s artistic directors. “This funding could not have come at a better time for us. Being in a place of transition with the venue and staff has made us feel off balance. This support gives me hope and confidence that over the next two years we can create a solid foundation for SVT to continue to grow from.”
What do local arts leaders want to do with the windfall?
“Everything!” said Lara Toner Haddock, artistic director of Austin Playhouse. “Seriously there’s always a huge wish list of what we could do with extra funds. An unrestricted grant is so welcome.”
“I am as thrilled and excited as I remember being when we received our first grant ever in 1984,” said Sylvia Orozco, head of the Mexic-Arte Museum. “I am glowing! When you are young and daring, you believe you can do anything and accomplish everything you dream of. That’s how I felt then and that is how I again feel now.”
26 Austin cultural groups will receive Bloomberg Philanthropies grants
Allison Orr Dance (Forklift Danceworks)
Austin Chamber Music Center
Austin Classical Guitar Society
Austin Creative Alliance
Austin Film Festival
Austin Film Society
Austin Music Foundation
Center For Women & Their Work
Esquina Tango Cultural Society
Penfold Theatre Company
Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance
Roy Lozano Ballet Folklorico De Texas
Salvage Vanguard Theater
Vortex Repertory Company
UPDATE: Lara Toner Haddock’s name was missing from this story in an earlier post.
The Blanton Museum of Art is passing out of 500 works of art to 17 other Texas museums. These are part of the historic collection of 700 pieces transferred last year to the University of Texas museum from the Contemporary Austin. The Blanton will keep 200 pieces that match its current collecting strategies more closely.
In 2017, the rapidly growing Contemporary decided to part ways with its eclectic collection collected put together rather haphazardly by its predecessors, including the Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin Museum of Art, Texas Fine Arts Association and Arthouse.
Its leaders will concentrate instead on the Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria and its “museum without walls” program that places art around the city. It will continue to stage temporary shows at its downtown Jones Center location.
For its part, the Blanton continues to add to its collection of nearly 18,000 objects. It displayed some of the work transferred from the Contemporary in a special show that highlighted Texas and Austin artists, including UT grads Jules Buck Jones, Lance Letscher and Eduardo Muñoz Ordoqui.
Some of the works transferred to other Texas museums — hungry to have them — were pieces by distinguished artists such as Alexander Calder, Dorothy Hood, Luis Jiménez, Alex Katz and Robert Rauschenberg.
“As part of this large and thriving arts ecosystem, the Blanton is proud to support other Texas institutions in serving their communities,” Blanton director Simone Wicha says, “while also preserving this important collection of Texas art for future generations.”
Participating institutions included the Amarillo Museum of Art; Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont; Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, affiliated with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi; the Grace Museum, Abilene; International Museum of Art & Science, McAllen; Kerr Arts and Cultural Center, Kerrville; Longview Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Texas Tech University, Lubbock; Nancy Fyfe Cardozier Gallery, Odessa at the University of Texas Permian Basin; Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts, Spring; Regional Arts Center, Texarkana; San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts; the Wittliff Collections and Texas State Galleries, San Marcos; Tyler Museum of Art; Visual Arts Gallery, Brownsville at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; and Wichita Falls Museum of Art at Midwestern State University.
In comparison, top ticket prices at the Museum of Fine Arts-Houston are $23; San Antonio Museum of Art are $20; Dallas Museum of Art are $16; Fort Worth’s The Modern are $16; Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum are $14; SMU’s Meadows Museum of Art are $12.
The Menil Collection in Houston and Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston are free. Also, the Kimbell’s magnificent permanent collection, as opposed to its special exhibitions, is free.
Admission to the Blanton remains free on Thursdays and to certain subsets of visitors. It also remains closed on Mondays.
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has awarded the Contemporary Austin a $100,000 grant for the Austin museum’s fall 2019 exhibition, “The Sorcerer’s Burden.” The grant is part of $3.6 million that the foundation gave out to 42 cultural organizations across the country earlier this week; 224 nonprofit arts groups had applied for the awards.
“The Sorcerer’s Burden” will include work by “emerging and mid-career artists from around the globe,” the Contemporary says; the foundation grant will help fund new, site-specific works at both the downtown Jones Center and Laguna Gloria as well as an exhibition catalogue. Heather Pesanti, chief curator and director of curatorial affairs at the Contemporary, is curating “The Sorcerer’s Burden.”
“We are honored to receive support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for Pesanti’s fascinating exploration of art and anthropology, ‘The Sorcerer’s Burden,'” said Louis Grachos, executive director and CEO of the Contemporary.
It’s time. The Austin Critics Table Awards nominations came out this morning.
The gathered minds invented new categories, both under the heading of Theater: Periphery Company, recognizing the theatrical body of work by companies outside of Austin proper, and Improvised Production, recognizing mainstage projects by area improv troupes.
That puts the number of official categories this year at 29 (7 theater, 5 design, 5 dance, 6 classical music, 6 visual arts). Critics also promise at least 11 special citations.
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.
The Austin Critics Table recently announced the latest group to be inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame.
The five honored Austinites have contributed to the city’s cultural scene over the course of many years. They will be inducted 7 p.m. June 4 at Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research Blvd. The event is free. Following the inductions, the arts critics will give out awards for the 2017-2018 season. Lots of awards.
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.”