Art and Music Flourish in a Thriving Texas Town. (City Beat: Austin)

By Pandolfi, Keith | Art Business News, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Art and Music Flourish in a Thriving Texas Town. (City Beat: Austin)


Pandolfi, Keith, Art Business News


During the South by Southwest music festival in Austin in March, the narrow back alleyway of Yard Dog Folk Art was transformed into an outdoor concert stage. As diverse bands showed off their sonic wares, some show-goers took a break from the music to browse the gallery. To complement the festival, Yard Dog--which usually showcases folk, outsider and self-taught art from the American South--was featuring the work of New York City painter, photographer and filmmaker Laura Levine, whose retro-folk art focuses on icons such as Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and Wanda Jackson. "This isn't what it's normally like here," gallery owner Randy Franklin explained, referring to both the music outside and the long line to the bathroom.

While it may not have been a typical day at Yard Dog, the synthesis of art and music illustrated the atmosphere of Austin, a city where artists and musicians dominate the landscape.

Austin is one of America's most eclectic cities, a place where vibrant Mexican culture is revealed with family-owned restaurants and distinct small businesses. Students from the city's several colleges keep the area young by providing hip galleries, clubs, coffeeshops and record stores, and a new breed of techies, most of whom arrived in the `90s, deliver a sense of economic prosperity that continues, despite the recent downturn.

Art can be seen just about everywhere in this city. Driving through fashionable South Austin, it's not uncommon to see outdoor sculptures or conceptual art adorning the front lawns of modest ranch-style houses. Furthermore, every restaurant and coffeeshop seems to be plastered with the work of local artists. Instead of being concentrated in one or two "arts districts," Austin's galleries are spread throughout the city, and during the past decade, they've been sprouting up in astounding numbers.

Back in March, South Austin's Laughing at the Sun Gallery, a space for up-and-coming artists, featured some stirring, often irreverent responses to the events of Sept. 11, including a replica of the twin towers made of popside sticks and a glazed American flag resembling a Pop Tart, titled "God Bless Sugar Coated Reality."

According to Kathryn Davidson, associate director of the popular Uptown gallery Women & Their Work, Austin is right behind New York and Los Angeles in the number of artists living here. She said the artist population increased dramatically in the `90s, when the dot.com boom led many graphic designers to the city. "Plus," she added, "it's just a great place to live."

Aside from being a gallery, Women & Their Work is a statewide, non-profit arts organization that presents more than 50 events a year in visual art, theater, film, dance, music and education workshops and programs. The gallery recently featured the work of Sarah Nix Ginn, a Texas-based artist who has parlayed her family's history as commercial dressmakers into elaborate works made from pattern paper--what she describes as "tubular constructions that represent spirit vessels."

Around the corner from W&TW, you'll find the heart of Austin's art scene at the Guadalupe Arts Building where dozens of the city's artists maintain studio space. Rama Tiru, a veteran photographer and digital artist whose work has been featured in publications such as Time magazine, creates surreal, digitally altered photographs, as well as intriguing shots of people, places and, in the case of a remarkable 7-Up bottle, products. …

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