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.
Spectrum Theatre Company, the African-American troupe that the late Billy Harden co-founded, will commemorate the Austin actor, musician, educator and leader on June 16-17 with “Juneteenth Chronicles.”
The show, created by Austin playwright Abena Edwards, pulls together passages from more than 250 interviews with former slaves, originally collected in the 1930s by the WPA. Directed by Crystal Bird Caviel, the cast will include standouts such as Roderick Sanford and John Christopher.
Look forward to the staged reading, which is presented in partnership with the Austin Convention Center, at the AISD Performing Arts Center on Barbara Jordan Boulevard in the Mueller Development. Suggested donation: $10. Find out more at spectrumatx.com.
UPDATE: The playwright sent us a sample of the ex-slave narratives with an image of the man interviewed in 1937.
“War didn’t change nothin’. We saw guns and soldiers, and one member of master’s family, Coleman, was gone fightin’ somewhere, but he didn’t get shot no place but in the big toe. Sometimes folks come ‘long and try to get us to run up North and be free. We used to laugh at that! Wasn’t no reason to run up North. All we had to do was to walk, but walk South. We’d be free as soon as we crossed the Rio Grande. In Mexico you could be free. They don’t care what color you was.” — Felix Haywood, born in Bexar County, interviewed in San Antonio in 1937 at the age of 92.
The Andrew Mellon Foundation has graced Texas Performing Arts at the University of Texas with a $500,000 grant to back “The Power of Protest: Arts and Civil Disobedience,” a proposed series of lectures, performances and other public events for a three-year period ending in 2021.
This brings the foundation’s gifts to the UT group to $1.35 million since 2011.
Performing and visual arts will be encouraged on the subjects of “world-wide protests for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, environmental protection, the guarantee of racial equality, and the current national controversy regarding the continued display or removal of monuments honoring Confederate generals across the U.S,” according to a release from UT.
“(It) allows us to explore how work in the performing and visual arts has the ability to become, in and of itself, an act of civil disobedience with the capacity to drive social and political change,” says Kathy Panoff, director of Texas Performing Arts and associate dean of the College of Fine Arts. “The proposed programming is informed by the inherent power of the arts to provide a safe space to explore the most contentious social issues of our time.”
It’s one of the most charismatic spots in the city — the Long Center City Terrace.
From the day that the performing arts center opened in 2008 — that’s right, almost 10 years ago — the semi-circular procession of columns left over from the old Palmer Auditorium made a powerful people magnet.
The view of the downtown skyline is priceless, even after the addition of some south shore buildings that cut off the view to the east. Instantly, everyone needed portraits on that terrace. Festivals and concerts followed. Pre-show, intermission and after-show crowds lingered there above a grassy hill.
So a naming opportunity for the terrace, right? H-E-B, one of the most munificent corporate citizens in Texas, has stepped up to the plate with five-year naming agreement for an undisclosed amount of money. Say hello to the H-E-B Terrace.
The name change will be made official at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 24, to be followed from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. by a free holiday event dubbed “Santa on the Terrace.”
“Our collaboration with H-E-B has been very valuable to the Long Center and the city of Austin,” says Cory Baker, president and CEO of the center. “Their dedication to the community and to providing access to the arts is something we both feel passionately about.”
“We are thrilled to be able to strengthen our partnership with the Long Center as we share in the belief that arts are an integral part of building a strong community, understanding our diversity, preserving our history, and building our future,” says Jeff Thomas, H-E-B senior vice-president and general manager for the Central Texas region. “The H-E-B Terrace is the ideal community gathering place for these beliefs to intersect – it is the heart of the Austin arts district and welcomes everyone to experience art in a public way.”
Earlier this month in Galveston, Matthew Hinsley, executive director of the Austin ClassicalGuitar, accepted the Texas Citizen of the Year Award from the National Association of Social Workers. Later that week at the AISD Performing Arts Center, Hinsley gave a brief pre-concert talk about what makes his nonprofit a nationwide model for arts-based community service.
We asked him to share his thoughts about the intersection of music and activities that many usually ascribe to the domain of social workers.
“In music school, in the most wonderful ways, I was taught to refine my musicianship,” Hinsley says. “Most everything at my core today — my work ethic, my sense of authenticity, my appreciation for individual strengths and weaknesses, my tenacity — has its roots in my relationship to guitar and the mentors who shaped me.”
His journey as a public servant through music began 21 years ago in Austin.
“In some ways — the obvious ones — that service grew directly out of my training,” Hinsley says. In other ways — perhaps less obvious — work in service stretched me from the very beginning and has never stopped. Because the myth for many young artists is that if you just get good enough at what you do, the world will come to you and watch you do it. But that notion is rooted in fallacy — because it is rooted in a model of the universe with oneself at the center. And that is not how the universe works.”
He believes that, as a public servant, he most constantly look at his community and ask who is being served and how can they be served better?
“It demands flexibility in every aspect,” he says. “It has led us to realizations that music can heal and engage so many people in such profound ways — but not perhaps the ways we thought we knew. So if it’s developing classroom-based systems for guitar education, or a Braille-adapted curriculum for students at Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, or the Lullaby Project at Travis County Jail, or musical puppet shows for kids in Austin Public Library branches — we live and flourish in this irony that while the world may not revolve around that which we have, it most certainly can interact in beautiful and mysterious ways with that which we can be.”
So an award from the National Association of Social Workers makes some special sense.
“It represents a vote of confidence that we have at least begun to leverage the great art we are so fortunate to have roots in, toward something that is reaching diverse people in unexpected ways,” Hinsley says. “What excites me most, is that each day when something new happens, we are made aware of just how many more opportunities for meaningful connection there are yet to explore.”