News Column

Austin American-Statesman Jeanne Claire van Ryzin column

May 31, 2014

By Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Austin American-Statesman



May 31--In years past, the Austin Critics' Table recognized individuals when naming names to the Austin Arts Hall of Fame; this year we've gone with the group.

The informal gathering of arts writers and critics from the American-Statesman and the Austin Chronicle on Monday at its annual awards ceremony will honor three artist collectives: art tour, gallery and exhibit presenters Big Medium; art makers Blue Genie Art Industries; and theater group the Rude Mechanicals.

Big Medium

Perhaps nobody is more surprised at the explosion of East Austin as an arts destination than the artists who founded the East Austin Studio Tour, the event partially responsible for drawing attention to the east side.

Now arguably the largest arts event in Austin by sheer number of participants and attendees, the East Austin Studio Tour started in 2003 when a trio of emerging artists -- Shea Little, Jana Swec and Joseph Phillips -- simply decided it'd be fun to invite the public to see their East Austin studio along with the studios of a handful of their friends who also called the neighborhood home.

When they started EAST -- which now averages almost 400 artists studios -- Little, Swec and Phillips had already been producing art collectively under the moniker Sodalitas.

But soon they expanded, stewarding the transformation of a warehouse complex on Bolm Road to become a gallery and studio hub. They launched the companion West Austin Studio Tour.

And they had the moxie to launch the Texas Biennial, the first statewide juried exhibition of contemporary art, an event that now garners national attention.

Most recently, and under their current name Big Medium, the now-expanded group and official nonprofit organization has taken on stewardship of Canopy, the latest of the East Austin studio/gallery hubs.

And yes, Big Medium has grown bigger once again, opening yet another gallery.

Blue Genie Art Industries

The artistic fingerprints made by Blue Genie Art Industries are all over the area, even if you haven't always recognized them.

The designers and fabricators of all things large and artfully weird -- a man-eating plant at the Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane, the giant squirrel fronting Berdoll Pecan Farms in Bastrop, bas-relief panels on the outside of the Bullock Texas State History Museum, and the guitar-swinging girl atop Fran Hamburger's on South Congress Avenue, among others -- Blue Genie founders Roray Skagen, Kevin Collins and Dana Younger may just have made Austin weird before many others.

Certainly Blue Genie is keeping it weird.

And with their popular holiday market, the Blue Genie Art Bazaar, approaching its 15th year, the collective offers other Austin makers an outlet for making an income.

Rude Mechanicals

Perhaps no Austin theater group has had the international reach of the Rude Mechanicals.

In 1995, five friends and then-recent University of Texas graduates --Madge Darlington, Lana Lesley, Kirk Lynn, Sarah Richardson and Shawn Sides -- set out with an intensely collaborative creative ethos, determined to make decisions collectively.

Such a seemingly naive notion of artistic cooperation has worked. And brilliantly.

Now the Rudes are just as likely -- if not more likely -- to perform one of nearly two dozen inspired and innovative plays nationally and abroad as they do in Austin.

"Lipstick Traces," their potent adaptation of music critic Greil Marcus' book that traces the history of anarchy and punk rock, garnered them huge acclaim nationally in 2001. After that, the touring has been nonstop with their original shows such as "Get Your War On," "I've Never Been So Happy" and most particularly "The Method Gun," which they'll remount in September at UT, where they are now the resident theater company with the Department of Theatre and Dance, landing full circle from where they started nearly two decades ago.

"We are lucky to live in Austin," the Rudes write in their collectively penned statement of purpose. "We are lucky to live in a community this creative and hard working and confident and intelligent. All this new work and all these open minds. We are lucky to live in a community where artists support one another, rather than compete with one another -- where we lift each other up instead of trying to tear each other down.

"We are always asked why we chose to live in Austin, so far from the artistic meccas on the coasts. Why would we have chosen anywhere else?"

___

(c)2014 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)


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