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Michael Barnes

Report: Toasty winter parties in Austin

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This long week, we learned about child advocates, savored an opera, lingered over a humanities exhibit, mingled at a block party, toasted a nonagenarian and shared an Austin history book with the masses.

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Aurora Martinez Jones and Darlene Byrne at Casablanca for CASA of Travis County. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

CASAblanca for CASA of Travis County

The take-away from this large gala: CASA of Travis County is on track to become the first large urban group of Court Appointed Special Advocates to place a trained volunteer with each abused or neglected youth within the area’s system. We learned this from impassioned Board President David Rubin, who followed equally stirring Executive Director Laura Wolf at the dais halfway through what, for some guests, was a six-hour event at the JW Marriott. Gratifying to find that this key nonprofit has doubled the size of its guest list and provided last year individualized help for 1,847 children, 722 of which went home to safe permanent families. During the same year, however, 700 children still needed advocates. I sat with amazing Judges Darlene Byrne and Aurora Martinez Jones, who split up the foster care cases at the same courtroom, part of the Texas foster care system that is not, as one federal judge ruled, overall “broken.”

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Emily and Ken Ashworth at Austin Opera’s “The Daughter of the Regiment.” Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Austin Opera’s “The Daughter of the Regiment” 

Funny opera? Sure. It’s not all sturm und drang at Austin OperaDonizetti‘s “The Daughter of the Regiment” — a young adoptee of a Napoleonic regiment must go through multiple tests before landing love — is not always laugh-out-loud funny, but every minute is smile-out-loud funny. The cast at our Sunday matinee was terrific from top to bottom and, of course, they and the orchestra sounded magnificent under maestro Richard Buckley. The combination of French (singing) and English (speaking) was jolting at first, but we took to it quickly. We’re always happy to see fresh faces in the crowd for this leading Austin arts group.

RELATED: Austin Opera’s general director turns to big data to engage audiences.

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Christina Abboud and Dana Tomlin at CaSaBlanca for CASA of Travis County. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Ransom Center’s “Stories to Tell”

This is something we’ve been waiting to see: More of the vast collection at the Ransom Center on display for the public. With a few other lucky souls, we peeked at a preview of the exhibit, “Stories to Tell,” which will be up through July. It seems fairly evenly split among American and European literature, performing arts, film, photography and visual arts, sharing the back stories along the way. One could spend hours there and I plan to return. One encouraging bit of news: The Ransom folks plan to devote one corner of the first-floor galleries to timely, rotating samples from this collection, which ranks among the finest in the world. We enjoyed catching up with longtime photography curator Roy Flukinger and still relatively new performing arts curator Eric Colleary, as well as Austin Way editor extraordinaire Kathy Blackwell.

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Joseph and Stefanie Ting at #KMFA Block Party. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

KMFA’s 50th Anniversary Block Party

If you are going to celebrate the 50th year for a community treasure, you invite in the whole community. And what better place to do so than the Fair Market events center in East Austin on one of the fairest days of the year? You had your food trucks, your scattered entertainment, your face painting (I demurred), your mingling over drinks. Kids seemed overjoyed, but frankly, who wouldn’t have a good time at such an event? KMFA also plans its first and only gala ever for this golden year. We look forward to it.

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Patricia Fiske and Burch Fiske at Patricia’s 90th Birthday Party Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Patricia Fiske at 90

She’s an original in so many ways. A beauty, she grew up quickly and took on New York with all the gusto of her generation. More recently, she’s been an Austin poet, actress, memoirist, singer and peace monger by her own description. So when it came time to toast Patricia Fiske at her 90th birthday party, we couldn’t resist. The well-assembled event at the Zilker Clubhouse included comfort food and drinks, a tent to ward off inclement weather and — a special treat — the Austin Symphony Big Band. Now, I love the 1940s sound — “my music” as Patricia aptly remarked — but I’ve rarely heard it rendered so expertly as this during this loveliest of lovely nights.

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Three dates for ‘Indelible Austin’

Thanks for asking: “Indelible Austin: Selected Histories” is on target to receive its third printing. And Vol. 2 is due out in the fall. Meanwhile, we’re nearing the 5oth public appearance related to this collection of my historical columns from the American-Statesman, published by Waterloo Press and benefiting the Austin History Center Association. In the course of a week, we talked to the Governor’s Mansion Docents at Chateau Bellevue, during the Angelina Eberly Luncheon — along with Saundra Kirk, Lonnie Limon and Evan Tanaguchi — at the Driskill Hotel, and to an Episcopalian gathering known as Pub Church that assembles casually but thoughtfully at Scholz Garten. Enjoyed the public dialogue with leader Stephen Kinney on the beauty of the people of Austin.

J.C. Shakespeare, who asked on of the sharpest questions, shared this excerpt from “Indelible Austin” on Facebook.

“I fall in love with Austin every day when I leave our bungalow and walk downhill to the social center of the city. Unabashedly, I cherish our arts, music, movies, fashion, sports, media, museums, nightlife, eateries, shops, and parties. I sing the praises of Great Streets, the Butler Hike and Bike Trail, and the State capitol. I linger over the reflections on Lady Bird Lake and the arcing green hills along the horizon. I boast about the University of Texas — ranked in the world’s Top 30, according to the Times of London — and how Austin Community College responds nimbly to our business ecology. As soon as I hit the social circuit by entering a room full of Austinites, I’m electrified. These people are worth knowing!”