Big Data makes the Austin dance scene

Turns out that the same charitable foundation that backed Austin Opera‘s general manager Annie Burridge when she supervised a segmented audience study earlier at Opera Philadelphia is underwriting a similar look at Ballet Austin.

RELATED: Austin Opera leader turns to Big Data to engage audiences.

The Wallace Foundation’s $52 million “Building Audiences for Sustainability” initiative intends to expand and deepen each arts group’s audience engagement by asking layered questions about why people are motivated to attend.

On Thursday, the foundation released an article and a video that upend long-held assumptions about how audiences behave. Ballet Austin is two years into the rigorous study, which so far shows that the assumed evolutionary continuum of audience tastes from story ballets to more abstract works is not supported by the data, but rather that people need more information on ballet altogether to feel more assured that they will fell comfortable with the experience.

They also found that people respond to videos that they discover digitally and that they also want to make social, intellectual and emotional connections. (Hey, that’s what we do, too!)


Here’s a snippet from the fascinating article:

“Every December, Ballet Austin puts on “The Nutcracker,” choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Stephen Mills. Virtually all of the 14 performances at the 2,442-seat Long Center for the Performing Arts are filled to capacity. “We could sell out more shows,” says Cookie Ruiz, executive director of the Texas company, “but it would wear our dancers out.”

“Packed houses are the case for other classics, too. But a different picture emerges for more abstract works, which don’t attract the crowds that flock to “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty” and the like. That reality is frustrating for the dance company – and not just because unsold tickets mean unrealized revenue.

It also runs counter to Ballet Austin’s mission: to create new work and develop talent, thereby extending the ballet repertoire and advancing the art form. Ruiz sums up the problem with a simple question:

“How do we go about developing larger audiences for entirely new work?”

Austin’s newest mural art: ‘Juegala Fria: Play it Cool Austin’

Last week we caught up with David “Shek” Vega, the San Antonio artist and owner of buzzed about Gravelmouth Gallery who serves as curator’s for this year’s Young Latino Artists exhibit at Mexic-Arte Museum.

Vega titled the exhibt “Amexican@” — that @ symbol a key to defining the 11 artists and one collective Vega selected, all millennials or younger born in the 1980s and 1990s.

“These artists deal with identity, but not necessarily in the same way as the Chicano artists who came before them,” told me during our walk through the exhibit. “We’re Mexican and we’re American and so we’re ‘Amexican@.’”

Since he was curating the current show (it’s up through Aug. 28; Sundays offer free admission), Mexic-Arte Museum invited Vega — a busy muralist, check out what he did for the Spurs — to create a mural on the museum’s East Fifth Street outside wall.

Check out our story on “Young Latino Artists 21: Amexican@”

Vega and his “Juegala Fria: Play it Cool Austin” mural at Mexic-Arte Museum, E. Fifth St. and Congress Ave.


Artist-made Frickbits free app is now available

Frickdits — the free iPhone app created by Austin artist Laurie Frick —  is now live and free via or the App Store.

Frickbits tracks a user’s location data and draws patterns of where you’ve traveled with colorful cubes derived from Frick’s watercolor drawings.

Frickbits utilizes the most basic of today’s data-collecting: the location data gathered by the Apple iPhone operating system

“It’s already happening, whether you realize how much your data is collected or not,” says a self-described data artist. “Why not take control of it? And create art from it?”

Read a feature story of Frick, her art and Frickbits here:





Screen grab of Jeanne Claire van Ryzin’s Frickbits app.