Beyond Batten. First, there’s the house. None other like it in Austin. Dimensional Fund head David Booth invited fewer than 50 guests to his still-new residence planted on several landscaped acres above Lake Austin. Sculptures and installations outside, mostly contemporary paintings and smaller pieces inside. Assembled from alternating, angled planes of glass and white walls, it could very well double as an art museum. Security is paramount. So no photos of the museum-quality art, thank you. Then, there’s the cause. Austin’s Charlotte and Craig Benson created Beyond Batten Disease Foundation when their daughter, Christiane, was diagnosed with the extremely rare, harrowing condition. So far, they’ve helped put together $16 million for research. They have also combined the resources of other Batten families and foundations with related neurological disease groups to help identify a new treatment that promises to slow its progress. Now they are seeking $6 million over the next 18 months to prep the treatment for human tests. Like the house, their story is like none other.
The Big Give. Sometimes a simple change of locale makes all the difference. Last year, I Live Here, I Give Here, the group best known for Amplify Austin, staged their Big Give in the Zilker Banquet Room at the Hyatt Regency. A neat space for the right event, but too big and chilly for the nonprofit’s casual young leaders’ group. This year, they moved over to the Sunset Room, formerly Textile, a brick events space near the Austin Convention Center that sees a lot of action around South by Southwest. Ideal. Just enough space to feel chummy yet chic. Incredible bites from Pink Avocado catering, including some of the best ban mi sandwiches I’ve ever had. Then they announced the evening’s two honorees: Terrell Gates of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area nabbed the Patsy Woods Martin Big Giver prize, while Creative Action edged out AGE of Central Texas and Food Bank of Central Texas for the RetailMeNot Nonprofit Award.
Symphony Season Debut. They packed the Long Center to the rafters. They came in jeans. They even came in shorts. Not a tuxedo in sight. The Austin Symphony Orchestra first-nighters listened intently to the all-Mozart program and giggled along with actor Martin Burke, who read from the composer’s revealing letters, before cheering a slightly muted Mozart Requiem. We sat next to a couple who were members of Symphony BATS, the orchestra’s reinvigorated young backers’ group. We had hoped to drop by their party on Red River Street, but the big Longhorns game nearby proved a disincentive. I like how, without sacrificing the seriousness of the musical selections, the symphony now markets its concerts as an evening out. And the season debut sure felt like date night for young and old alike.
O. Henry Birthday Party. This annual assembly at the O. Henry Museum — and the Susanna Dickinson Museum next door — honors authors. Among the first duties is to read out the names of Austin writers with recently published books. Among those in attendance was Stephen Harrigan (“A Friend of Mr. Lincoln”) and Skip Hollandsworth (“The Midnight Assassin”). The main event, however, was Hollandsworth’s audio-visual show about Austin’s serial murderer from the 1880s. Over the course of 10 years’ research, the Texas Monthly veteran (“Bernie,” etc.) never found the killer, but he got to know 19th-century Austin very, very well. We plan to interview him on that subject when the paperback of “The Midnight Assassin” comes out in the spring.
Night of Stars. For its 10th anniversary, Dancing with the Stars Austin, which benefits the Center for Child Protection, looked to the past to find its fleet-footed celebrities. They brought back stars from the previous galas to dance with the pros in December. Among those introduced before several dozen guests at Dine were Tribe founder Alex Winkelman, attorney Bill Jones, ACC District Trustee Gigi Bryant, chef David Garrido and breast cancer advocate Susan Lubin. That’s not all: Consider insurance man Cole Adams, financial services provider Dan Neil, children’s advocate Erin Johnston, music enthusiast Jackie Mooney, Telluride developer Katrine Formby and all round good guy Vaughn Brock. I spent most of my time during the reception, however, huddled with actor Barbara Chisholm, who returns as a judge. I served once, impersonating Bruno Tonioli. Glad to back Babs instead.