The Austin Book Arts Center didn’t ask for $50 million.
Or $5 million.
The backers of this group that engages folks in the art of making books — no, not bookmaking, that’s something else — requested a total of $15,000 to help them move from their studio at the undone Flatbed Press building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to new digs.
Aided by the deliciously dry humor of leader Mary Baughmam, formerly a conservator at the Ransom Center, the center’s benefit at the Austin Central Public Library was an endearingly grassroots affair.
Library system Director Roosevelt Weeks welcomed the casually attired band of adults and children. Soothing music, scrumptious sandwiches, lively activities — they all combined to make one linger and contemplate the gifts this group has already given our city.
And how one can help the center reach its modest goal.
David Kurio‘s cascading floral arrangements filled the eye at every angle during the Red, Hot and Soul gala, staged in the Bobbi Tent at Zach Theatre‘s South Austin complex. The splashy arrays matched the evening’s theme, “Saturday in the Park,” an idea hitched to the theater’s first full-blown take on Stephen Sondheim, “Sunday in the Park with George,” which opens later this month.
Naturally, Artistic Director Dave Steakley opened the dinner/auction with the show’s extraordinarily difficult but ultimately gratifying first-act choral finale. The performance — indeed the whole run of the show — was dedicated to Managing Director Elisbeth Challener to salute her 10th anniversary in the job.
The performers never rested during the 12 auction-item “scenes.” This sizzling entertainment took the place of the musical numbers customarily presented later on the stage of the Topfer Theatre, which was instead dedicated to late-night dancing. The highlight during this tent show was a triumphant version of “I Am Me” from the movie, “The Greatest Showman,” from Zach’s youth troupe.
While this plan concentrated the joy around the superb Four Seasons Hotel Austin dinner — keep serving that buttery cod! — a dozen is still a lot of auction items and guests began to melt away by No. 9.
This is a crowd you want to keep close by. I’d wager that more of Austin’s “top socials” were gathered here than at any other Austin gala this season. I’d name a few, but the list would go on and on.
AUSTIN BOOK AWARDS
The evening began with a magnificent meal.
Led by Linda Ball and Forrest Preece, a merry band assembled in a private dining room at Fixe, where we feasted on Southern fare and riveting repartee. Discussing arts, books and civics were Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, Dan Bullock, Barbara Chisholm Faires, Robert Faires, Pei-SanBrown, Daniel Brownand my husband, Kip Keller.
You absolutely want to be stuck with this lively group on a rainy Austin evening. Luckily, though, the skies cleared and we walked a few short blocks to the stunning new Austin Central Library for the Austin Book Awards ceremony, which benefits the Austin Public Library Foundation. This was my first social outing inside this building’s special events space. Tall and wide, it worked well enough for the foundation’s understated fundraiser.
Not unlike the First Edition Literary Gala for the Texas Book Festival — but on a much smaller scale — these awards bring to the dais some of the best storytellers around. Speaking at breakneck speed, author Owen Egerton served as an especially witty and energizing emcee. The winners: Elizabeth Crook (Fiction); Varian Johnson (Young Adult Literature); and Nate Blakeslee (Nonfiction). What a group! And they were introduced by literary leaders such as Stephen Harrigan and Tim Staley.
One of the foundation’s most effective programs, Badgerdog, encourages young people to write, not just read. We heard two lovely poems from the 2018 Forrest Preece Young Authors Award Honorees, Brandee Benson and Angie Hu.
The invocation at the Manos de Cristo gala snuck up on me.
My mind wandered a bit — in a good way — during a biblical reading from Luke. Then it closed with a punch: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
I caught my breath. I’ve attended hundreds of not thousands of nonprofit benefits in Austin. This line from Luke could be included in almost any charity invocation. Because that’s what these nonprofits are doing, day in, day out, year after year. And our gratitude should be boundless.
The 30th anniversary Manos benefit got off to a chilly start because of the capricious April weather. The 90 minutes of cocktail reception took place in the windy, open-sided lobby of ACL Live. The women in short cocktail dresses and off-the-shoulder gowns went begging for wraps. This was one Texas night when a vintage fur piece came in handy.
The next hour was taken up by dinner inside the theater. Fortuitously, I ended up at a table between Denise Jones, who spent most of her life in Fort Worth, and Justin Calloway, who grew up in the Corpus Christi area. Stories about those two Texas cities easily filled up 60 merry minutes.
Gala leaders expertly handled the celebratory program. We were reminded of the humble beginnings of Manos at El Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church in the Cesar Chavez neighborhood. Then as now, the group provides certain basic services — food, clothing and lessons — but Manos is best known for its amazing affordable dental program. It now runs a much larger second clinic on Harmon Avenue.
Expansion there, including a real parking lot, was made possible in part by two Lutherans, cheerful philanthropist Dick Rathgeber and his equally buoyant coreligionist Earl Maxwell, CEO of the St. David’s Foundation. Good works are good works, after all.
What good fortune then to discover that Victoria Pineda is back in the auction game! Always fast, fun, witty and sweet, Pineda raced through the early part of the auction in a way that made everyone in the room feel like a full participant. Such a rare gift.
Just a few more words on “Exit Wounds,” Stephen Mills‘ unforgettable three-part Ballet Austin concert at the Long Center.
• Seventy-five minutes without an intermission was exactly right for these dark yet somehow encouraging dances. Any break would have broken the spell.
• Even if already partially seen in rehearsals, all three pieces opened up magnificently after relevant costumes, scenery and lighting were added. We might attend primarily for the undiluted dance, but every other element plays a crucial part.
• The introductory videos with voiceovers about the personal experiences that informed the dances were beautiful and informative. They also made one think how the pieces might live on without these frames.
• Maybe because it has had the longest time to gestate, but “Four Mortal Men,” set to a Debussy string quartet, seems to me the most portable and durable of the trio. Revisiting the subjects of AIDS, art and companionship in 1980s New York, Mills’ entangling choreography rarely looked so indispensable. And kudos to the four dancers for their heartbreaking interpretations.
• We squirmed in our seats during a short dance set to the famous 1982 White House press conference, as laughing correspondents joked with the Press Secretary Larry Speakes about the “gay plague” and why the President Ronald Reagan blithely ignored it. Mills himself performed in a fury downstage, but the historical audio record was almost too much to take even 36 years later.
• The third movement in “Truth Rescued by Time,” performed by the entire company, was an unqualified triumph. It really could stand alone. Everything that makes Mills’ work so timely yet timeless was reflected in the 22 artists who did not lose their individuality while performing as a living, symbolic organism.
Each year, the Girls Scouts of Central Texas judiciously selects a small group of leaders to honor as Women of Distinction. They are saluted at a brisk, dignified luncheon, this year set for noon on April 26 at the AT&T Center. I always learn a lot at this event.
Alexis Jones (Rising Star Award) is the founder of nationally recognized organizations I Am That Girl and ProtectHer. She’s an author and motivational speaker for Generation Y, and named one of AOL’s Makers alongside Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton.
Nora Comstock, Ph.D., is an entrepreneur and business leader, founder of Comstock Connections and national and international founder of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, current member of Austin Community College District Board of Trustees, and member of the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.
Denise Davis, J.D, is the founding partner of Davis Kaufmann PLLC, lobbyist and former Texas House of Representatives deputy parliamentarian, advisor and attorney to two Texas Lt. Governors, and chief of staff for Texas House of Representative Speaker Joe Straus.
Laura Wolf, J.D, is executive director for CASA of Travis County Inc. She developed merger between Austin Rape Crisis Center and Center for Battered Women to create SafePlace, served as former President of the Austin Junior League, and is recipient of two national awards from CASA Inc.
Amy Shaw Thomas, J.D, is vice chancellor of academic and health affairs and an executive Oofficer at the University of Texas System, board member of Downtown Austin Alliance and Texas Methodist Foundation, active member of Austin Area Research Organization, and advocate for inclusion, diversity and meritocracy.
Texas Cultural Trust, an arts advocacy group, has chosen 15 students for the 2018 class of Young Masters. Each of the promising artists receive a $10,000 scholarship over the course of two years to enhance their studies.
Two are from our fair city: Ian Stripling Jenson, an 11th grader at McCallum Fine Arts Academy, has been selected in the music category for violin, and Leif Tilton, a ninthe grader at Bowie High School, has been selected in the music category for classical guitar.
Some of the past Young Masters recipients have gone on to glory, including Austinite Charles Yang, a 2004 honoree. The Boston Globe judged that this rising soloist “plays classical violin with the charisma of a rock star.” He also happens to play guitar.
Two Austin hosts, Monica Peraza and Nina Seely, made the 2018 Salonniėre 100 list, a project that attempts to name America’s best party hosts each year. It’s an intensely researched product of the Salonniėre website, founded and edited by our city’s Carla McDonald.
Also new to the list, which spotlights honorees from 34 cities in 28 states, this year are national celebrities such as movie star Reese Witherspoon, supermodels Cindy Crawford and Heidi Klum and singer-songwriter-actor Solange Knowles. Returning to the list are media mogul Oprah Winfrey, fashion designer Lela Rose and interior designers Ken Fulk, Alessandra Branca and Bunny Williams.
“I am deeply honored to be recognized on this prestigious 2018 Salonniere 100 list of the best party hosts in America, among bold faced names like Reese Witherspoon and my passionate friend Monica Peraza,” says Seely, most recently of the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum with its Umlauf Garden Partyand now a real estate agent. “Whether hosting friends, family or creating a community event, a great party is made possible with incredible guests, and I’m so fortunate to live in a community rich with engaging, passionate and dynamic people.”
Peraza was also pleased.
“I feel incredibly honored to be on the 2018 Salonniere 100 list,” says Peraza, incoming board captain of the Long Center for the Performing Arts and founder of the Hispanic Alliance, which stages the crucial Authentic Mexico benefit at the Long Center each fall. “Not only because I have so much respect for Carla Stanmyre McDonald but also because of the other people on the list, among them Oprah Winfrey and my friend Nina Seely.”
She put in a few words for the upcoming party.
“We have had the privilege of hosting the best chefs of Mexican cuisine, both in Mexico and the United States … and of course the best in Austin, too!” Peraza says. “Eleven chefs prepare dinner every year on Sept. 16. So far over 50 chefs have been part of the Authentic Mexico Gala, including the one and only Diana Kennedy.”
9 Core Values for First Tee
Maybe I should take up golf. Everybody at First Tee of Greater Austin, which teaches character through sport, seems so amiable. And the group’s annual 9 Core Values luncheon not only spotlights its worthy efforts, the brisk ceremony reminds us of our local heroes. (Oh yes, I just remembered my hand-to-eye coordination problem.)
This year at the Hyatt Regency Austin’s large banquet hall, emcee and golf sportscaster Fred Albers introduced Stephen “Steve” F. Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation, who assured the big room that the golfing industry was stable and making strides with women, millennials and people of color. Then came the parade of honorees who embody the values that First Tee tries to imbue on youngsters.
The theme this year was — naturally — the golf community. So the Robert W. Hughes Philanthropic Leadership Award went to the three founders of the local chapter of First Tee — John Ellett, Tom Martin and Jay Watson. Following that lead were others from the local golf world.
Confidence: Paul Family, founders of Golfsmith
Courtesy: Barbara Puett, golf instructor
Honest: Tom Kite, World Golf Hall of Fame
Integrity: Ben Cresnshaw, World Golf Hall of Fame
Judgment: Mike McMahan, rules expert and friend of golf
Perseverance: Mary Arnold, community champion
Respect: Beth Clecker, manager of Morris Williams Golf Course
If you lived in Austin during the 1960s and ’70s, you called the oddly shaped domed structure on the shores of Town Lake the Municipal Auditorium.
If you arrived in the 1980s, it was then known as Palmer Auditorium, renamed after late Austin Mayor Lester Palmer. Maybe you referred to it jokingly as the “Green Turtle,” or variations on that theme.
If you were around during the 1990s and early 21st century, you’ll recall the seemingly Sisyphean efforts to turn that outdated 1959 building into the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Many things were tried; some failed, some succeeded.
And if you were in town March 28-30, 2008, you might have attended one many glorious events staged for the Long Center’s grand opening. One could praise right away the handsome and lively Dell Hall, the largest performance space, but also the terrace lined with columns — the result of an engineering challenge — that offered one of the finest views of the city skyline.
The center, home to the city’s top symphony, opera, ballet and choral companies, as well as to mid-sized arts groups and touring acts, is back in the spotlight this year. A larger 10th anniversary party is planned for fall 2018, but before that on March 3, the center will blaze with the talents of the Avett Brothers and Asleep at the Wheel for a celebratory concert and after party.
Never one to rest on its laurels, the Long Center staff and trustees have spent the past year reexamining the center’s role in the community. It was known in some circles a decade ago primarily as a place of refuge for the larger arts groups who were nudged out of Bass Concert Hall by the University of Texas. Yet even from days when charismatic leaders such as Cliff Redd explained the unbuilt center’s future role, it was always intended to be a place of convergence for all of the arts.
It became more than that — and, then again, sometimes less. Despite the absence of a hoped-for café or shop, the center swarmed with unexpected activity year-round, much of that outside. The place itself became the main event, not what was booked on its two indoor stages. And even those performance offerings became increasingly varied, less traditional.
Well, after spending a year with consulting creatives from the ad agency Archer Malmo, the Long Center leaders have in hand a plan to fill the spaces, including the much-loved H-E-B Terrace, with an even wider variety of entertainment.
“The landscape of Austin is changing and so are we,” says Cory Baker, president and CEO of the Long Center. “The most immediate changes you’ll see are in our programming, wherein we’re diversifying in order to set the stage for the next generation of artists.”
How that will play itself out remains to be seen. Everyone is aware of the city’s need for affordable artistic venues. What it means, however, for the current resident companies of Dell Hall and Rollins StudioTheatre, who often rehearse as well as perform there,remains unclear.
For now, branding upgrades will suffice while the staff tries to free up more dates to mix in fresh forms of shared activity.
UPDATE 1:30 Feb. 28.: We asked Baker to amplify her comments on the changes at the Long Center.
American-Statesman: What exactly do you mean by more diverse entertainment bookings in the future? The examples you use — movies, talks, etc. — are already a part of your line-up and have been for a while.
When we say diversifying programming, we are thinking beyond just adding new genres to the mix. We are focused on diversifying the experience options within the performing arts spectrum and being more intentional about our choices in order to expand our reach and engage new audiences.
We strive to be progressive, relevant and genuinely more reflective of our ever-evolving population. This means working with artists to create unique experiences for Austin – the Avett Brothers playing with Asleep at the Wheel, Bill Murray’s critically acclaimed new project – and blurring the lines to surprise our audiences by partnering with b to showcase boundary-breaking opera singer, Joseph Keckler.
We are also expanding the offerings within each genre, for instance, we are proud to present José Gonzálezand the Boston Pops (coming 2019). Our speaker series goes from world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Family programming is another area where our offerings are as different as the many families that we serve, from seeing the Paw Patrol juggernaut in Dell Hall to enjoying free bubble fun on the lawn for Bubblepalooza and our All Summer Long series of community events. This is part of our current programming, and it shows the intentional choices we will be making for the next 10 years and beyond.
What exactly does this mean for the seven resident companies? Less performance time? Less rehearsal time?
The Long Center is proud to continue to be the home of our resident companies. Our strategy has been to look at the calendar and performance spaces as creatively as possible in close coordination with our partners. An example of this is that the Austin Opera graciously works with us so that we can present on their dark nights. This year, we have already presented many incredible artists … through our willingness to share the space in creative ways.
When it comes to Rollins, the venue was always intended to be a shared community asset — an accessible, affordable and practical performance space for a wide array of local artists to create and present work. With the space crisis in Austin growing and demand on the room increasing, we have challenged ourselves to think proactively about how we can serve an extended range of arts groups in the city and work creatively with our existing partners to find practical solutions that will best serve the arts ecosystem here in Austin
One can relax during the Feed the Peace Awards for the Nobelity Project at the Four Seasons Austin Hotel. You know why? Because even when the AV system crashes or a stray joke bombs, Turk and Christy Pipkin are going to smile, glide back on stage and make it all better.
The highlight of the most recent event was a speech by honoree Dan Rather who gave an oration about today’s crises so timely and rousing that every statesman wishes he or she had written and delivered it. He’s truly a treasure. I didn’t stay long enough to witness the plaudits for the Flatlanders, but they surely deserved the recognition.
Nina and Frank Seely are candidates for the best party hosts in town. Their afternoon spread for a perfectly poised Valentine’s soiree was what every guest hopes will greet them from a party buffet. The crowd fit the room and the room the crowd. Can we talk about the social star power? Carla McDonald, Venus Strawn, Wendi Kushner, George Elliman,Eva Womack, Larry Connelly, Donna Stockton Hicks, Margo Sawyer, Lance Avery Morgan, Rob Giardinelli, Nona Niland, Patty Hoffpauir, Greg Easley, JamesBryant,Richard Hartgrove and Gary Cooper were just some of the highlights.
Two opening receptions made me very happy about my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. There’s growing excitement about the maturing cultural attractions on or near campus. One week apart, we attended “Vaudeville” at the Ransom Center and “Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly‘s Austin” at the Blanton Museum of Art. Both were mobbed with fans. Within fairly easy walking distance are the LBJ Presidential Library, Briscoe Center for American History, Bullock Texas State HistoryMuseum, the UT Visual Arts Center and more than a dozen public art projects from the Landmarks program, all worthy of sustained attention. Good times.
Although traditional story ballets and evening-length concept concerts are always welcome, I’m partial to short abstract pieces, such as the three on display during “Masters of Dance” from Ballet Austin at the Long Center. Reserve time for dance at its purest: music and movement aided by minimal design elements. Loved the furling and unfurling, folding and unfolding to Philip Glass‘s music in Justin Peck’s “In Creases.” Enjoyed the beskirted, stuttering angularity of Pam Tanowitz’s “Shade.” David L. Lang‘s music for it? Not so much, despite conductor Peter Bay‘s valiant efforts. The third slot was reserved for a revival of Stephen Mills‘s rhythmically mesmerizing “Kai” set to the percussion of composer John Cage. I’d see this again and again for as long as dancers dance.
One hot topic was the Driskill Hotel, traditional site of the always gratifying midday event. Leading the public chat about the venue’s rollercoaster past was Monte Akers, attorney and author, whose “The Grand Dame of Austin: A History of the Driskill Hotel” was recently released by Waterloo Press (must be transparent, also the publisher of my two books).
His best anecdote, however, was told off the cuff: Before lunch a lady introduced herself as Helen Corbitt. Could she really be the celebrated Driskill chef who had popularized the cheese soup that we sipped in the lobby? (She died in 1978.) Perhaps it was her daughter? Akers asked around. But the well-attired woman had vanished for a while like a Driskill ghost. Luncheon chairman Charles Peveto put the questions to rest: That was Helen Covert, not Helen Corbitt.
Also on the stage in the banquet room were Luci Baines Johnson and Julian Read. Johnson’s family was closely associated with the hotel. For decades, LBJ held periodic court in the ornate 1886 palace. His daughter told the stories behind the stories, including the fact that LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson‘s first breakfast date at the hotel was later rendered in several conflicting versions by her parents and their friends.
Read, one of the greats of public relations and public affairs, shared a detailed history of the hotel’s modern ownership. Best known in some circles for his work with Texas Gov. John Connally, Read represented the Driskill through several of those owners, all struggling to bring the building up to its historic potential.
The other subject? The association plunged deep into the campaign to give over a portion of the shuttered Faulk Library to the center, which long ago maxed out its storage, exhibition and office space. It would take $11.8 million for critical infrastructure to bring it up to code, then another $3 million for the center to expand into two floors and the basement. For a long while, leaders have endorsed a public-private partnership that could mean little or no cost to taxpayers. Luckily, in the audience this day were Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, as well as former mayors Lee Cooke and Frank Cooksey, all strong backers of the center.
Out into the arts
The Austin spring performing arts season is up and running. We thoroughly enjoyed Zach Theatre‘s staging of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a fluid telling of 15-year-old Christopher’s experiences as he negotiates parents, teachers and strangers through the lens of autism in the United Kingdom. Director DaveSteakley‘s teamwas particularly good at visualizing the mindset of Christopher, played expertly by Texas State University student Preston Straus. It will be remembered as one of the performances of the season.
We also finally caught cabaret singer Ute Lemper live at UT’s McCullough Theatre as presented by Texas Performing Arts. The modern embodiment of the 20th-century cabaret scenes in Berlin, Paris, New York and Buenos Aires, Lemper can channel Marlene Dietrich and any number of performers set off into the world in part by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, while sharing the theater history in priceless asides. That is not all. Lemper spent a good portion of the show with a pianist and a bass player scatting in high jazz form. Although technically amazing, this style paled in comparison to Lemper’s clear-eyed, clear-edged cabaret. Note of approval: “Mack the Knife” should always be performed in German. Always.
We also stopped by the opening reception for artist Malcolm Bucknall at Wally Workman Gallery. The longtime Austin artist presented exquisite amalgamations of human and animals, of in Victorian or Edwardian dress, as if borrowed from outrageous children’s books from the period. We had a fairly long talk with Bucknall about his time in the U.K., India, Cyprus and ultimately Austin, after his father moved here to start UT’s metallurgy program in 1958. We plan to hear more of these stories at his studio this week.