Throngs uplifted by Hope Awards and Taste of Mexico

Interfaith is very Austin. The city is open to ideas. And to faith. It is no wonder that Austin hosts multiple interfaith groups, which not only encourage dialogue among religionists but also action based on shared convictions.

Ali Kahn and Rizwana Bano
at the Hope Awards for iACT. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

One of those groups, iAct, helps refugees, fixes up homes and provides other opportunities for talking and doing good together. Most years, they work very closely with the American-Stateman’s Season for Caring program. More than one recipient from that annual campaign to help the neediest were present for the Hope Awards, iACT’s annual tribute to interfaith leaders at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

SEASON: Blinded by bomb, Iraqi refugee seeks to counsel others.

After some unavoidable fluff, the ceremony picked speed and gravity when Executive Director Simone Talma Flowers used her not insubstantial oratorical skills to lay out the group’s mission. Then Rev. Stephen W. Kinney, iACT’s board president, introduced the first Hope recipient, Imam Mohamed-Umer Esmail, whose pastoral humility and dignity reach far beyond his Nueces Mosque.

SEASON: Family escaped war in Syria to start over.

The remainder of the program was given over to a conversation between another Hope honoree, Luci Baines Johnson, and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. There isn’t a better public interviewer in town and Smith pushed Johnson to reflect on sad state of civic life today. Yet Johnson focused instead on the inspiration of her parents and her own guarded but urgent optimism for her children and grandchildren. At any rate, she is an increasingly disciplined speaker who struck just the right chord for the evening.

SEASON: Caring for others keeps senior going.

TASTE OF MEXICO

Mexic-Arte Museum first staged Taste of Mexico on the street. Then the sample-and-sip fiesta moved indoors and slipped into a more traditional a gala format. The benefit, which attracts a wide range of ages and cultures, now seems to have hits its stride at Brazos Hall.

Chris Gonzales, Sara Palma and Paul Chavarria during an absolutely packed and festive Taste of Mexico benefit for Mexic-Arte Museum at Brazos Hall. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

A dizzying array of food and drink could be had on the first floor, while the open-sided deck upstairs was set up more like a crafts market. The sheer number of culinary options was overwhelming. And the copious crowd love it, swirling from one table to another just enough abandon, given the generous sips of tequila and other potent potables. At times, it felt like a pop-up nightclub, but with better food than any nightclub has ever assembled.

The program was miraculously short. And a good thing, because the speakers could not be heard beyond the front rows. I like this event. It think you would, too.

Two tip-top Austin parties side-by-side

Not often that two tip-top Austin parties take place atop two downtown buildings. Even less often when those buildings rise side-by-side across a narrow alley.

Luci Johnson, Amiko Kauderer and Capt. Scott Kelly at the Johnson penthouse for Paramount Theatre party. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

First off was a salute to Capt. Scott Kelly, the retired astronaut who spent a 520 days, 10 hours and 33 minutes in space, including almost a year during one stay on the Space Station. He appeared to be acclimatized to Earth again and introduced me to his fiancé,  Amiko Kauderer, a former NASA public affairs officer who helped shape his Twitter presence.

This reception took place at Luci Johnson and Ian Turpin‘s penthouse in the Norwood Building, which overlooks the Paramount Theatrewhere Kelly is to speak tonight about his  memoir “The Sky Is Not the Limit: Lessons from a Year in Space.”

Johnson was her usual gracious self. Yet introducing Jim Ritts, president and CEO of the Austin Theatre Alliance, she reminded us that she can be among the best public speakers in town, her cadences recalling the finest traditions of American oratory.

Now a little joke on me. Upon meeting Amiko, I was confused. I thought Kelly was married to former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, and that I had met the couple during an Austin party at the Highball. Oh no! That was Scott Kelly’s identical twin brother Mark Kelly, another retired astronaut. The pair were part of NASA’s twins research. Luckily, I learned this before going to press.

Booth Art Prize Party

There’s probably never been a month when Austin produced more major art news stories. Recently, Landmarks unveiled José Parlá‘s mammoth mural, “Amistad América,” at UT’s Rowling Hall. On Feb. 10, Pease Park Conservancy officially opens Stickwork sculptor Patrick Dougherty‘s utterly charming “Yippy Ki Yay” in said park. Feb. 18, in the biggest reveal of all, the Blanton Museum of Art invites the public into late artist Ellsworth Kelly‘s only designed structure, “Austin,” which will inevitably change the way the world sees the city and its art.

Rodney McMillian and Suzanne Booth at the Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize last dinner at the Contemporary. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Meanwhile, the Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize produced its first visible fruits. Right away, it figured to be one of the biggest such awards in the country with a $100,000 unrestricted purse. The inaugural honor, announced in 2016, went to Rodney McMillian and includes a full exhibition, catalogue and other  supporting activity at the Contemporary Austin. So, all told, a $400,000 project.

Last night, the museum previewed the immersive installation, “Against a Civic Death,” with a party at its downtown Jones Center. Since I had dropped by the Johnson reception first, I missed seeing McMillian’s hard-hitting video on the first floor, but I’ll spend an afternoon soon downstairs and upstairs, where the mood is more celebratory and includes the voice of 1972 presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm.

On the rooftop over a three-course dinner, a few hundred guests gathered to lionize McMillian, as well as Booth, who made the transformative gift to endow this prize. Among those front and center were the Contemporary’s Louis Grachos, Landmarks’ Andrée Bober, Blanton Museum’s Simone Wicha, art super-collectors Michael and Jeanne Klein, and civic trailblazers Melba and Ted Whatley.

 

Best Austin parties for this weekend in September

The social and arts seasons are revving up quite nicely this weekend.

Sept. 14: Words of Hope for Caritas. JW Marriott.

Sept. 14: Filigree Theatre Gala. Springdale Station.

Ballet Austin’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Contributed

Sept. 15-17: Ballet Austin’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Long Center.

Sept. 15: YWCA Fabulous People Party. Spiderhouse.

Sept. 15: El Grito Gala for Buen Samaritano. 7000 Woodhue Dr.

Sept. 15: Hill Country Nights for Hill Country Conservancy. ACL Live.

Kaki King. Contributed

Sept. 16: “Kaki King: The Neck is the Bridge to the Body.” Long Center.

Sept. 16: “Diego y Frida: A Smile in the Middle of the Way” opens. Mexic-Arte Museum.

Sept. 16: Trash Makeover Challenge for Texas Campaign for the Environment. Rio Austin.

Sept. 16: Mike Quinn Awards Luncheon for Headliners Foundation. Headliners Club.

Sept. 17: Austin Symphonic Band Fall Concert in the Park. Zilker Park.

Sept. 18Dover Quartet. UT McCullough Theatre.