V5N6: August 1999


Austin Downtown
Arts Magazine

August 1999
Volume 5 Number 6

Table of Contents

ArtPlex Houses Art Galleries You May Have Missed by Rachel Staggs. 1

Art Nest Focuses On How Children Learn by Micah Magee.. 4

All classes share a firm commitment to the way in which students are learning as opposed to a final work.

ArtPlex Grew Out of Artist Energy, Enthusiasm by Shilanda Woolridge.. 5

The ArtPlex is a creative oasis nestled between the hustle and bustle of downtown and the University of Texas. There is truly no place like it.

Children's Museum Expands Reach to Include Teens by Maria Rios. 8

Make your own film. Design your own animation. And even learn to swing dance, beckon the Museum's flyers, but most of all create, create, create.

Gallery's Grant to Fund Educational Services by Jamie Reed.. 10

With the money, Women and Their Work can afford to commission curators from other galleries to describe the featured artist's work in short write-ups that go into brochures. The grant will also help fund a gallery website.

The Kind of Girl by Sonya Feher. 12

Moving Media at ArtPlex by Grace McEvoy.. 13

Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer. 16

It is common knowledge that we live in a celebrity culture. But sometimes it is surprising just how deeply ingrained is our attraction to spectacle.

Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourselfby Rachel Staggs. 17

If I had to choose one word to describe this book it would be HONEST.

Up All Night by Harold McMillan.. 19

There's a buzz about jazz in Austin again. It's not the same old jazz scene, not the same old players, not the same old audiences, and not the same old music, either.

Verities by Shilanda Woolridge.. 20

I'll admit I have a bad habit of procrastinating


ArtPlex Houses Art Galleries You May Have Missed by Rachel Staggs

And Something Different studio/gallery

Leslie Pierce, owner of And Something Different, was born in Brooklyn, New York, and spent time in Long Island and Denton, Texas, before making her way to Austin. As an artistic child, Pierce felt no support and in fact was put down for being creative. When she joined the Artists Coalition of Austin she found support from the other members and artists, along with a boost in confidence.

When I spoke with Leslie Pierce, she was insightful and open about a variety of subjects. I asked her several questions before giving her the floor to share with me anything she wanted to. She told me about her brand of radical feminism in art. "I consider myself a radical feminist. I am heterosexual which seems to put people more on edge because I am the most dangerous kind of feminist to the 'old school.' I enjoy the male body in more than one way.

"I'm having fun with getting in their face about the inequality. There are different ways women are subjugated to being second-class citizens, and one of the ways is having visual imagery withheld from us. Guys are socially allowed to look at Playboy and gawk at women, and do all the things that they do. But we are constantly told that women are the ones who buy the women magazines with the airbrushed babes on the front. I feel like that has been a conditioning, and it's a load of crap. Men are too nervous to see really good-looking hunks and have their wives bring those magazines home. Then they would start to feel as insecure as we do at times when we are standing at the checker line in the grocery store."

Penetration #17Pierce shared many pieces from the Penetration Series with me. The work in this series is some of the most creative photography/artwork I've seen. Her method involves combining the human figure with images of buildings via a slide projector and silver metallic paint on the body. She photographs buildings and projects those slides onto her models. The result is geometric pattern magic. Unfortunately, not everyone sees the beauty in these images. One of her pieces was banned for male frontal nudity.

She's A Real Dish Series is another series Pierce has been working on. The short name for this series is RadFem, short for "radical feminist." This series focuses on how women are treated as objects. The first piece in the series is housed in a stripper's booth, which Pierce built herself. With broken dishes and fishnet-covered silverware, this piece is destined to intrigue many.

We spoke more about feminism in today's society and Pierce told me about a bumper sticker she saw. It said, "Feminism is the radical notion of women being people." Maybe we should post that sticker all over the restaurant Hooters, or bring Pierce's idea to life by opening a restaurant called "Peters" or "Dickies" and have guys in tiger shorts come wait on women.

After having several problems with the gallery scene, Pierce turned her frustration into power and developed her concept of having a studio/gallery where people could watch her work. Pierce said, "I know this is going to sound cocky, but I knew my work was good and that I would make it as an artist. I just needed a chance. So, if no one else was going to give it to me, I was going to create it for myself. And then, later on I thought it would be really nice to give that opportunity to other people, struggling." She started out with a small room downstairs at the ArtPlex and has slowly added more rooms and turned her space into one of the most aesthetically pleasing hidden galleries in Austin. The work she shows is different. She's not looking for your traditional landscape painting. "Now, if you want to show me a landscape painting that has been ripped up, put back together, hung upside down and painted in a good slick presentation, then we'll see. Sometimes it's really hard when you hurt peoples' feelings and turn their work away because it's too 'normal.'

"I just think being an artist is really hard because of the rejection that can happen to you," she says. "You're always jumping through hoops: how am I paying the rent, what is my next series going to be, when am I going to have the time to actually think of my next series or buy the supplies and do my next series? So being part of the ArtPlex is wonderful because it's such a networking of people, struggling, doing the same thing."

And Something Different studio/gallery is located in the ArtPlex at 1705 Guadalupe, Suite #104, (512) 875-4784. Stop by for a radical art experience.

Little Gallery @ DiverseArts Production Group

The concept for the Little Gallery developed when DiverseArts was first organized in 1994. Starting out on Congress Avenue at Café Solaire, then moving to the Heritage House on East 13th, DiverseArts and the Little Gallery found their ArtPlex home last November. The Little Gallery has been featuring local and regional artists working in two-dimensional media since the beginning of this year. Paintings, drawing and photography are shown here, along with small sculptural work.

When I spoke with founder, Harold McMillan, I asked him if it was difficult to bring an audience into the gallery. "It has been challenging, but it's getting markedly better with each month. We are primarily known as a presenting organization. Most people connect DiverseArts with the Austin Jazz Festival, or the Blues Family Tree Project. One of the ways we have been trying to get more people to come into the building to see what we are doing is once a month we have what we call "Second Sunday Salon." Most of the time, these coincide with the opening of a show. With those Second Sundays we usually try to mix the showing of a new artist with a social activity. There's food, often times there's poetry or music. In addition to bringing people in to have conversation and have refreshments, we want them to know that we do rotating art shows here. The work that we choose to hang is quality work. We want the work to be exposed to new people and get out into the community."

Shows run four to six weeks, an average of seven shows a year. Now showing through August are paintings by Lynda Dubov and sculpture work by Max Smith. In her artist's statement, Dubov says, "Often I am asked, as I am sure most artists are: What does it mean? Do you just splash a bit of color about at random? What were you thinking about at the time of creation? Well, I answer this differently at different times, but essentially I answer the question with a question (or two or three): What does it say to you? What do you see? Can you enter into a dialog with the painting? With the person who can answer these questions, I can discuss the feelings we might share. To the person who feels that the work violates the natural order of things and is offended by it, I say: Examine your reaction. If my work suggests to you more than you need or it touches a delicate nerve, then look closer. You may see yourself all too clearly in the drawing from which you seek to escape."

Currently the gallery has poetry books for sale and has plans for a gift shop that will include smaller artworks, books and locally produced music.

Little Gallery @ DiverseArts is located in the ArtPlex at 1705 Guadalupe, Suite #234, (512) 477-9438.

Pro-Jex Gallery

After spending ten years on East 5th Street, Neil Coleman moved his gallery to the ArtPlex. Pro-Jex Gallery has been housed in the ArtPlex for the past two years and presents a variety of photographic works. You may have missed this gallery because it is tucked away in the back of the building. Now is your chance to check it out. On Saturday, August 7th from 6 to 9pm, Pro-Jex Gallery will have an opening reception for its newest show. The show, entitled New Work, New York will feature the photography of Michael Morlan.

When I spoke with owner Neil Coleman and asked him what keeps his interest in the gallery he shared with me "the three P's: Presentation = the exhibits; Preservation = showing other photographers how to store artwork and protect artwork archives; Promotion = promoting photography." Not only can you visit the gallery to see artwork, but it is also a frame shop.

Pro-Jex Gallery is located in the ArtPlex at 1705 Guadalupe, Suite #122, (512) 472-7707.


Art Nest Focuses On How Children Learn by Micah Magee

Neeka Edwards had a headache and did not want to draw her sister's eye in the place it belonged. It was Neeka's first day at Art Nest's "Reach for the Ceiling" summer camp, and the other four girls were diligently shading portraits of each other with Renaissance accuracy. Neeka studied morosely the eye under her sister's nose. A shadow fell over the paper. Neeka looked up to see that it belonged to the teacher, Tiffany Sheely. She sunk her head in one hand and covered the errant eye with a finger of the other. Ms. Sheely smiled and mentioned Picasso. Neeka buried her face in the table. Ms. Sheely asked if Neeka would not rather turn over the paper and draw something else for a while, or take a break entirely. Slowly, Neeka reemerged from behind her hands and ventured a look at her new teacher. Within a few minutes, a maze of intricate lines was crossing the sheet and the headache seemed somewhat forgotten.

On the flyer, Art Nest describes itself as a program "created to meet Austin's growing need for quality children's programs." A low student-teacher ratio (four to eight students per course) enables teachers to provide students with a safe environment for artistic exploration in a range of courses offered this summer at the ArtPlex. Some classes combine history with production, while others are intended to enhance awareness of art and artists in Austin or to delve into a specific medium. All classes share a firm commitment to the way in which students are learning as opposed to a final work.

"A child's feelings during the artistic process affect the product deeply," said Sheely after class. "I want my students to have a good feeling about creating art, not to be overwhelmed or consumed by it. I am amazed by children's ability to be curious, responsive, and unrestrained. It is my responsibility to make a safe environment and to present material that is inspiring -- to provide pointers, not to limit their ideas. That means letting go as a teacher and focusing on the process, not the product."

Art Nest began last February when Sheely approached Austin Coalition of Artists founder Tina Jaillet to ask how one might start an educational program coordinating production with art history and appreciation. For the past five years, Jaillet has been conducting aesthetic research in addition to her responsibilities with ACA, focusing on different types of viewing. She is interested in the ways in which a vocabulary is developed to discuss art. Through observing her son's progress in Sheely's second grade class at Kerbey Hall, Jaillet knew Sheely to have educational sensitivities similar to her own. The two women decided to relinquish their positions at ACA and Kerbey Hall to invest in a small private art school.

Neeka's class, "Reach for the Ceiling," is a week-long program on the Renaissance period, cumulating in a fresco on the classroom ceiling. On the first day, the students paint on the bottoms of tables to get a feel for the techniques Michelangelo might have used and discuss panels from the Sistine Chapel. Neeka's sister, Sylvia, said the class differed greatly from other experiences she'd had with art education. "I really didn't like my art class in school. My teacher didn't really do anything. All we did was play with clay all day and we were not allowed to talk back. Anytime we talked it was talking back." In Art Nest classes, students articulate opinions on a wide range of topics. Like the rest of the production programs, "Reach for the Ceiling" finishes with a gallery-style opening. Refreshments are served and the students hang their work around the classroom. Parents and friends are invited to witness the unveiling of the fresco.

Other courses featured this summer include an interactive study of French masters, a trek through city galleries, a printing class, a program for parents who would like to work with their children, and Saturday found-object workshops.

"Artists, Save Our Earth" is another found-object program where children are encouraged to expand their definition of art. After building things from broken toys and parts of parks, the group goes to visit local artists who earn their livelihood the same way. In this way, students are able to connect art history and art work with concrete examples of professional artists here in Austin. After running through Vince Hahnmann's three-story sculpture, the last group of 6-8 year olds was asked if they thought something so huge and made out of things most people throw out could really be considered an art work. They thought it could.

"It's neat to see that art does not have to be realistic or 2D or easy to understand and that it can be physical and functional," said Sheely.

Art Nest will continue opening doors this fall. They would like to begin working in public schools where art has been cut from the budget and expand the program to include a class by Nina Jolly, who has been assisting Jaillet and Sheely this summer. Jolly hopes to eventually provide a class that facilitates the reintroduction to art for adults who thought their creative days ended when they were in sixth grade.

Although several artists have approached the school interested in teaching, Jaillet expressed a hesitance to expand. She is nervous that the program would no longer be able to uphold its grounding philosophy if faced with rapid growth. "What we really need is a bookkeeper," sighed Jaillet.


ArtPlex Grew Out of Artist Energy, Enthusiasm by Shilanda Woolridge

The ArtPlex is a creative oasis nestled between the hustle and bustle of downtown and the University of Texas. There is truly no place like it. A walk through the halls will take you past galleries and studios that contain painters, photographers, theater companies, film makers, and writers. Various works adorn the walls for the enjoyment of others; and many a welcoming smile and a "Come on in and tell me what you think!" have been offered by working artists in their studios who notice an art appreciator viewing pieces in the hallway. Here the spirit of camaraderie and creativity go hand in hand.

The core of the ArtPlex is found in the Artist's Coalition of Austin (ACA), formerly The Artist's Cooperative of Austin. In the spring of '93, the cooperative was scouting for a nice building and a good deal. They found it at 402 Baylor Street, an 11,000 square foot, partially air-conditioned building that belonged to Goodwill. The cooperative had to present a business plan for the space, and was allowed to rent a portion of the building at a pro-rated rate. "Richard King of Goodwill was very gracious and believed in us," explains Jan Roset, office manager and one of the founding members of ACA.

They occupied the building in April, and the space was divided up to create a 2,000 square foot gallery called Art Space and twenty-seven studios. Samantha Randall, the first president of ACA and an architect, helped to lay out the spaces with tape on the floor. The artists literally had to build their own studios from the ground up using the tape as a guide. "We were working purely on artist energy because we had no money," says Roset. "It was very hot, but it was a wonderful area and we loved it. The Public Domain Theatre did their first play there, and so did Salvage Vanguard Theatre. We also had poetry readings and shows in the gallery. That's how we made our money to pay the bills." In August, the cooperative officially received its non-profit status and changed its name to the Artist's Coalition of Austin.

Change is inevitable, and after three years at Baylor Street ACA was notified that Goodwill wished to reclaim its space. They cut ACA's current space in half and gave them six months to find another home. They enlisted the help of commercial real estate agent Gary Peden because he was working for a broker whose husband, Ron Prince, was the president of ACA at the time. "We couldn't afford to buy the facility because we had no money and were in debt. We were artist friendly and always paid them, but the group itself remained behind," says Roset.

Gary PedenRegardless, Peden got to work and found an abandoned state office building that had been empty for four years. The building used to be the home for the Texas Commission of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. According to Paul Smith, Peden's partner and manager of the ArtPlex, "It was a really ugly building on the inside. It had wood grain paneling everywhere, these tiny cubby hole-like offices, ugly carpet, and low ceilings. Gary had a great vision that he could put the ACA in here and then create art studios with the remainder of the space. One limitation of the space is that there isn't much parking. So for a traditional business that would be a problem, but most of the artists are here in the evening or on weekends when there's a lot of street parking."

ACA decided that they didn't want to purchase the building at the time because of debt, but they were interested in leasing. Instead Peden gave them a deal: they could have free usage of the gallery if some of the members rented studios. So half of the remaining ACA tenants bid farewell to Baylor St. in December of 1996 and moved into the new building in January of 1997. They used more artist energy and elbow grease to build the ACA Gallery, which was ready in March of 1997.

The ACA folks weren't the only ones working hard, as Peden had the rest of the building to attend to. He did most of the work himself with the aid of a construction worker from El Salvador named Pablo XYZ. They went through and took up the carpet in the halls to reveal the concrete, and built and removed walls to create the artist studio spaces. "Gary was ingenious at adapting resources," says Smith. "He would frequently go to the Habitat for Humanity Re*Sale Shop and buy doors, windows, and anything he could use for his construction. The front doors for the ACA gallery itself were found when Gary was walking by Dobie Mall when they were doing some remodeling, and he noticed some doors being taken out. He said, 'How much will you sell this to me for?' and he bought the doors on the spot."

So how did this new space receive its name? "I believe Ron Prince came up with the name ArtPlex. He threw it out as an idea and Gary said, 'That's a good one, let's go with that!'" says Smith. Peden didn't purchase the ArtPlex at the time; he was on a ten-year lease with an option to buy. About a year into that lease, he was talking with photographers Todd Williams and Mark Madson. Williams and Madson were founding members from Baylor St. and very happy in the new space.

"When I met Gary, we hit it off and got along very well." says Williams. "I'm an old real estate guy as well. I leased a studio around the corner from Mark Madson, my partner, and we really liked the building. Things were getting better and better at the ArtPlex, and more interesting people were moving in. Gary and I talked over coffee, and he said that he had an option to buy the building, which would take a lot of money for the down payment." So Williams, Madson, and a silent partner who was a lawyer, agreed to go in with Peden on the purchase of the building. They closed on the ArtPlex at the end of June 1998, with each owning a quarter of the building.

The closing of the deal was a dream come true for Williams. "For me the idea was to own the building and never be a tenant again or kicked out like we were," he said. "Here we want to provide a little security for artists who have a good space to work, and not have outrageous market forces dictating our lives. So that once you get set up you won't have to move so the building can be renovated for attorneys, CPAs, or architects. The goal is to keep the rent affordable regardless of the market conditions. So, if you lease a space here you can hang around for a long time, and have a sense of place and get to know other people. The ArtPlex is a place that won't be yanked out from underneath the artists or have the rent tripled."

Safe and secure in the hands of its owners, the ArtPlex continues to grow. In the beginning the ACA Gallery was the lone gallery in a sea of studios. Over time some of the tenants with art studios decided to make their own galleries in their studios or purchase several spaces and break down the walls to make a gallery. "I think that's helped the energy of the building a lot, so that the night of the art opening and there's not just one gallery," says Smith.

The gallery openings are but one stepping stone in the path to build community; having friendly neighbors is another. "People working in their spaces will tend to get to know the artists working in the spaces in their vicinity, and maybe look at their artwork and share ideas about the projects they are working on," continues Smith.

In two short years the ArtPlex has become a full-blown creative community, and many possibilities lie in the future. The ArtPlex is already good neighbors with Women and Their Work and Galeria Sin Fronteras, but the proposed construction of the Blanton Museum and the Texas History Museum will bring even more foot traffic into the general area. Williams sees the ArtPlex as the locus of all the impending art activity. "I hope to have a relationship with the University of Texas. We can do teaching or have lecturers come over from the university to look at contemporary work here. We could also have shows by university students and have a symbiotic relationship with UT's art department. I've got big ideas!" says Williams.

In a few short years the vision of one man has transformed an abandoned ugly government building into a thriving center for the Arts. The April 1999 passing of Gary Peden may have taken his physical presence from the ArtPlex, but the spirit of his contribution will live on in every new piece of work created, every friendship made in the hallways, and every gallery opening or performance.


Children's Museum Expands Reach to Include Teens by Maria Rios

Since its establishment in the heart of downtown in 1997, it's been difficult to ignore the growing energy emanating from the sun colored building on the corner of 2nd and Colorado -- the Austin Children's Museum. This energy, powered by the warm, vibrant sounds of children at play, is most evident in the bright faces of hundreds of children as they explore, aided by the museum's dazzling interactive exhibits, the mysteries of a world still so new to their sight, touch and experience. This summer, however, in addition to the children's programming, The Austin Children's Museum seeks to extend itself to Austin teens by providing a forum for their creative whims unlike any other in town. And how does the museum accomplish this, when teens seem to be among the hardest to attract and motivate if you're not offering them sugar-coated endorsements for fizzy drinks or for equally fizzy and complicated athletic gear and other media sweets? The Austin Children's Museum employs a more subtle approach: the never sparing use of action words, verbs (the imperative in particular) that invite Austin teens to reject media sweets for a healthier and more productive "multimedia" diet in addition to other activities. Make your own film. Design your own animation. And even learn to swing dance, beckon the Museum's flyers, but most of all create, create, create. Little by little, teens trickle in to involve themselves in developing programs such as "Teen Night," "The Loft Series" and other activities spearheaded and mentored by Brenda Sendejo, Teen Program Coordinator.

When asked about teen involvement at the museum, Sendejo made it clear that for the past eleven years, the museum has offered opportunities for teens to participate as volunteers. Over time and with the accumulation of multimedia technology these volunteers were allowed access to the museum's resources, which in turn initiated the creative flow that would eventually snowball into museum activities and firsts designed for and most importantly, by the teens themselves. The conceptual springboard for these activities that emphasize creativity through technology is the Loft Series. The Loft, initially an experimental extension to teens resulting from youth and community input, offers both a "hang" space and a multimedia studio in addition to mentorship in the traditional arts. This generous fountain of creative resources, which has sponsored classes on such topics as swing dancing and African drumming, sets the stage not only for creative growth but for leadership opportunities. It was this program that led to the creation of the Teen Advisory Council, an organization that has been instrumental in generating ideas for teen participation in the museum.

Austin Children's Museum Teen Advisory Council

The Teen Advisory Council, originally made up of seventeen former volunteers presented the Austin Children's Museum's first Youth Multimedia Exhibit, an art show both contributed to and curated by the council. Held on March 23, 1999, the exhibit featured works ranging from traditional media to computer generated images and web sites. So successful was this event that it called the attention of Mayor Kirk Watson who proclaimed that day as "Youth Multimedia Day."

Another first for both the museum and this age group was the premiere of Teen Takes, the museum's first teen documentary put together under the guidance of Mocha Jean Herrup, University of Texas doctoral student and documentary film maker. The documentary featured interviews with local teens, most of which are members of the Alamo Community Center's Believe in Me dance group, along with filmed commentary given by a number of this state's school principals who happened to be present where the young filmmakers Jessica Estarga and Kaylan Burnette gathered footage for their project. The end result reveals short, permanent glimpses of the shaky emotional momentum symbolic of that awkward age that most of us in some way or another remember with reluctant fondness.

The showing of the documentary preceded another event held that evening which was a call for entries for those in the audience interested in participating in Austin's Own Youth Film and Video Festival to be held at the museum in October 1999. In attendance was Mars, an independent film producer, who shared her wealth of experience with the attendees, most of whom are participants in the All Girl Media Club, yet another program geared to link teens, creativity and multimedia. With handouts and inspiration to share, Mars jump-started the vision of the future filmmakers, producers and artists in the room with helpful tips on how to retrieve, conceive and organize the ideas that could become the next round of showcase works for both the youth and the museum.

As this summer's teen activities come to a close, be sure that the museum -- with the help of its teen participants -- will continue to develop multimedia workshops and a range of cultural programs that invariably will keep all interested youth busy throughout the year.

The events mentioned here are only a sampling of what the museum offers, so for more information on teen events and classes, please contact Brenda Sendejo at (512) 472-2499ext 209. For more information on the All Girl Media Club, contact Beth Sams, Multimedia Educator at (512) 472-2499, ext. 240.


Gallery's Grant to Fund Educational Services by Jamie Reed

The Center for Women and Their Work recently celebrated its 21st birthday. Perhaps the best birthday gift came from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the form of a $35,000 grant. The one-year renewable grant will be used to fund educational services aimed at the children of Austin and the visiting public. With the money, Women and Their Work can afford to commission curators from other galleries to describe the featured artist's work in short write-ups that go into brochures. The glossy brochures display some of the artist's work, in color, and are designed to educate gallery visitors on the artist.

The grant will also help fund a gallery website. Currently, the only way to access Women and Their Work online is through austin360.com. The upcoming site will have an independent address in cyberspace.

glass art by Kathleen AshExecutive Director Chris Cowden believes reaching out to the community via websites and brochures will not only educate, but will keep people coming back to the gallery. "Children are not the only ones that can benefit from art education. Sometimes adults will come in and ask, 'Where's the art?' when they are standing in the middle of it. Everyone can stand to learn more."

Latina playwright Ruby Nelda Perez put on a bilingual, one-person play for children at the target schools. Perez had no script for her performance and judged her audience's reactions to decide how much Spanish or English to incorporate. After the school workshops, Perez performed for a sold-out audience at the Dougherty Arts Center, where a Pierce Middle School teacher brought eight of her students. "After Perez finished the kids came up and asked if she would sign their programs -- as if she were a celebrity. One boy told her he was going to learn Spanish after watching her play," Cowden said.

Women and Their Work has introduced over 18,000 school children to art and artists in the past twelve years. Hopefully, the NEA grant will enable the organization to reach even more children (and adults) in the coming years.

Since Women and Their Work is a nonprofit organization, funding is always needed. Although the gallery's finances are currently running smoothly, there have been problem years. In 1986, when Texas went into a deep economic recession, Women and Their Work hit a wall on funding. All government, city and state funding crashed while donations from private sources decreased. "It took us three to four years to get back on track and moving ahead," Cowden said. Once back on track, galleries will, like all businesses, attempt to stay in the black, however they can.

Nonprofits depend heavily on donations and grants. Cowden admits it can get tempting to chase the grants, choosing artists that will allow for the most monetary benefit. For example, Women and Their Work receives a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation that is only good toward printmaking. If a gallery goes after too many of these grants, they may lose their edge by sacrificing cutting-edge controversial works for the conservative funded works. "It is always challenging to an art institute to avoid chasing money -- especially in this time when controversy can get so overblown," Cowden said.

wall hanging by Lea WhittingtonThe high-profile Robert Mapplethorpe trial accounts for many of today's curators who are wary of displaying controversial works. Local police raided the 1989 Cincinnati exhibit of Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photographs and brought obscenity charges against its curator for exhibiting the photographs. Although the conservatives believed they had an easy victory in court, the jury surprised them when they acquitted the curator on all counts. However, 1990 legislation stated art which met the legal definition of "obscene" could no longer receive federal funding.

In order to keep grants, Women and Their Work avoids using donations or grants to fund artists whose work could be considered obscene. "When we have anything that might be controversial, we don't put corporate money into it. I understand that corporations give us money because they want to do something good for the community; they don't want to feel like they are funding pornography," Cowden said.

Although donations account for most nonprofit funding, Women and Their Work can still afford to feature more controversial artists by selling tickets to performances and making money via the gift shop. Although Cowden does not want to offend any of the benefactors, she said she would not choose money over a valued artist. Instead, Women and Their Work has found a delicate balance. Gallery employees happily take federal funds and every once in a while, such as last summer's Identity showcase, they put on a controversial exhibit.

"The Mapplethorpe trial, in a way, shows the true power of art," Cowden said. "Everyone thought the conservatives would win the trial, but here are twelve very ordinary people who realize that art is not pornography. They can see the difference."

And perhaps that is all we wish for of Women and Their Work -- to see the difference, continue to push boundaries and stay cutting edge.


The Kind of Girl by Sonya Feher

The kind of girl I am
goes out at eleven
to bring the trash can
from the street in silk
pajamas (the ones
Tanya talked me into,
blue - to feel sexy
for myself - no man,
not a man).

I only went so far as this
teal because maroon felt
extravagant, not a good color
to sleep in. I'd dream of blood.

Maroon is dressing for adventures,
pale skin and bright eyes. It's
vampires and overripe berries.

It's a color I told myself
I couldn't wear because
I hennaed my hair
and the shades clashed.

The kind of girl who wears
maroon is offered drinks
in bars and asked for
her number by strangers.
I was never that kind.

Maroon is for parties
and demicup bras,
for garter belts and
lunchtime sex in a cheap hotel.

Maroon is broken hearts
and fingernail polish, rose
petals half dead.
It is hungover eyes and
rage enough to hit a child.

I've always been wary of that

© 1999 Sonya Feher
One of Austin Poetry Slam's hosts, Sonya Feher won 4th place (of 41 competitors) at the Taos Poetry Circus Open Slam in June. Her poetry was recently featured online at Poetry Tonight. She soon begins her MFA in Poetry at Southwest Texas State University.



Moving Media at ArtPlex by Grace McEvoy


Take the elevator all the way up at 1705 Guadalupe Street and enter the foyer of the only ArtPlex tenant on the third floor. There is seating, a living potted plant and a dead one with a hand made sign among the leaves that says "I'm dead." However, as you go through the door it is clear that you have not only entered the best space in the building, but that the foursome that make up TEAM SMARTYPANTS! INC. are anything but dead. TEAM SMARTYPANTS! INC.(TSP!) is creative director/CEO Mario Champion; co-founder/designer Derek Rosenstrauch; designer and programmer Frank Champion; and designer Scott Talkington. Yes, Frank and Mario are brothers. What TSP! does is creative media design and development for print, web, CD-ROM, Enhanced CDs and DVDs.

Mario Champion founded the company in 1995 after being disillusioned with what he could do with his architecture degree from UT. He knew he was a good designer and the field was new enough that he figured he could do as well if not better than the next guy getting into it in its infancy -- and he was right. An early project he worked on was the Lets Talk About Me CD with the Austin interactive company, Girl Games. Recent projects have included a collaboration with another Austin interactive company, Human Code and an educational CD project.

TSP! have been at there present location about two years and they like it a lot. Improvements were made early on. Windows were put in, a dividing wall with a window, the ugly carpet was removed and the lighting and ceiling changed. Now it is a typical new media workspace. The workstations, equipped with Macintosh computers are decorated with plastic toys, pictures, Teletubbies and the like. Although Mario works a sixty hour week, fun seems to be the encouraged attitude as the team has been spending their lunch time playing the boat racing video game Hydrothunder for the past several weeks and have considered giving themselves a stipend just for video games.

Limited only by what they feel like doing, TSP! are involved in a couple of other projects. They are part owners of Luck records and responsible for the cool idea of putting a set of dice in the plastic margin on the left side of the CD covers. The plastic is translucent yellow and has a quote from the artist as well. I don't know what to call that part of a CD, but they call it the aquarium. They are also in the midst of another as yet undisclosed joint venture with a company called Blue Arrow.

Want to know more? Check out their web site at TEAMSMARTY.COM so you can see how they "proudly trounce the line between original art and corporate communication," or so says their postcard. When I asked Mario to describe their artistic style he said, "I don't know, I guess it is layered and made up of components." A lot like interactive media, no?

Austin Cinemaker Co-Op

If you live in Austin and are interested in film and want to be involved in it, there is just no excuse not to be. On the very accessible and affordable end of the film making scale is Austin Cinemaker Co-Op whose mission it is to provide what is needed for the Super 8 art form. The total novice can start from scratch with an inexpensive workshop and then rent a camera for a reasonable fee from the Co-Op and go shoot a film.

Austin Cinemaker Co-Op

I spoke to Gonzalo "Gonzo" Gonzalez on the fifteenth day of his position as the managing director. The position is the only paid staff position and only recently did they receive the funding for that. The job description is for 30 hours a month, yet Gonzo estimates he puts in about 35 hours a week. The Co-Op has survived the last three years on all-volunteer staff and, well, other volunteers. I think you get the idea -- it is a labor of love. With three hundred members, the Co-Op is growing and the Super 8 workshops have grown from once to twice monthly.

The list of Austin Cinemaker Co-Op activities is long. Currently, on Tuesday evenings viewers can see something called Windowfilm, a work in progress projected on to the second floor Co-Op office window to be viewed from outside. Aaron Valdez will be simultaneously projecting and editing this film to be shown in its final version on September 22 at the amphitheater at Austin Museum of Art at Laguna Gloria for Cinemaker Co-Op's kick off screening for the Cinematexas Short Film Festival. Coming up on August 8 and 9 is "Score Wars: The Phantom Flicker." This is a Co-Op presentation at the Ritz Lounge of Super 8 films that were made in a two part project: filmmakers made a soundtrack first, and those were chosen at random by other filmmakers who then made a film based on the soundtrack. There will be over twenty-five Super 8 short films screened. This is an example of the parlor game like film making that you can get involved in with the Co-Op. There are members-only projects like "Twelve Houses," making a film based on a Zodiac sign. "Exquisite Corpse" is an idea based on a drawing game where someone draws a head and the next person draws the torso without seeing the head, only the two lines of the neck. The drawing is finished by a third person who does not see the torso or the head and draws the legs. Translated into film, the second and third film makers base their portion on the last thirty seconds of the previously shot film without seeing any other part of the film. Then there is the Make a Film in a Weekend challenge. I imagine people running around with cameras like they are in an egg on a spoon relay race. Sometimes there is nothing more inspiring than a deadline.

And there is more. There are screening salons, monthly screenings and special screenings and opportunities to get feedback on your work and to meet people to work with. There are sponsored projects, discounts for members and the in-progress film score register. This on-line world wide register will be a place where you can put your music or select a sample with an email connection.

Austin Cinemaker Co-Op is also a great resource for film information. Get on the email list and receive information about job postings, casting calls, calls for festivals and screening opportunities and more. With the advent of home video, Super 8 film making could well have vanished yet some artists have kept it alive and some film schools still take advantage of it as an inexpensive teaching tool. Others take it seriously as a democratic art form. It is important to know that film has a longer life expectancy than video. It looks as though Austin Cinemaker Co-Op also has a long life ahead.

Austin Filmworks

Director Steve Mims has been teaching his production classes for seven years but has been an ArtPlex tenant for only a year. Austin Filmworks gives people who want to learn about film making an alternative to a university degree program. Each class is fourteen weeks long, and Production I is appropriate if you have no experience at all. Students learn cameras, film and lighting and end up with a finished project. Films are screened at the Dobie Theater in December.

The course demands a lot of work in fourteen weeks, so students collaborate on films with a partner. Projects are shot on 16mm film and edited on mini digital video. Mims tries to get the students to avoid having to buy any gear, so cameras are provided as well as editing equipment; however, a conservative budget for a ten minute 16mm film is high. Nevertheless, this kind of learning experience is just what many people are looking for. They can avoid the much higher cost of a university degree and get only what they want.

Instructor Steve Mims is a 1981 film production graduate of Southern Mississippi University, and got his MA in film at the University of Texas in 1987. He has taught at both universities. He teaches the classes with an assistant and spends the rest of his time working on his own projects or collaborating with others. Like other tenants of the ArtPlex, the students take advantage of the Dog and Duck pub across the street where a lot of these projects get worked out. Mims loves the location and thinks "the vibe is great in the building." He also likes his students and is impressed with the quality of the work they turn out.

The Alan Smithee Project

It sounds like the name of a noise band, but those in the know know that Alan Smithee is not a tenant at ArtPlex. The Alan Smithee Project gets its name from a non-existent director whose name gets put on projects that the filmmaker is embarrassed to have made. Each of the people who share this space have worked on a project or two that they would rather not have their name on so they decided to call themselves The Alan Smithee Project. Basically, it is four independent people working in film who share the same space.

Filmmaker Mat Hames is the anchor of the group and he hooked up with filmmaker Robbie Robertson through production classes at Austin Filmworks. Sharing the space are filmmaker/editor Christine Isenberg and filmmaker/editor Kevin Smith, a full time Apple employee who manages to make film as well. The facilities they share in their second floor space are non-linear editing equipment. Hames does video graphics and animation on a commercial basis and the others are basically aspiring filmmakers. Right now Hames is doing post-production on some commercials for a hospital in Belton. The kind of work he does involves layering different video images or compositing images, motion graphics, and animated titles and graphics. Most of his money goes back into working on his own creative projects.

Hames background includes studying film at the University of North Texas in Denton and working for three years at a production company in Dallas. Like most ArtPlex tenants, the group is very happy with the location and the fact that they can afford it.


Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer

Music in the Culture of Celebrity

Recently, while playing a ritzy West Austin wedding reception, I found myself on break scarfing down some wedding food in a rec room adjoining the main banquet area. There was a big screen TV blaring away with the latest on the JFK, Jr. tragedy. Periodically people poked their heads through the doorway and asked: Did they find anything else yet? I would mumble around a mouthful of food: Just the airplane wheel and a headrest. Meanwhile Dan Rather blathered on about a country in mourning, while the price tag for this spectacle climbed by millions of dollars per advertising block. Next to me my drummer mused: If you or I got lost how much do you think they would spend trying to find our bodies?

Later that week I was stuck in traffic on the way to a rehearsal, calming my nerves by listening to NPR's Fresh Air. The guest was Tom Rosensteel, author of America In The Age of Mixed Media and president of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. After so much opportunistic Kennedy scavenging by the media, Rosensteel's perspective was refreshing. He drew a parallel between the news media and Hollywood: with the proliferation of media targeted at different demographic groups, each with a small share of the overall market, the appearance of a "blockbuster story" represents great profits since it can sell to many different demographics. News stories become like major motion pictures, and chart-topping songs: crossover hits.

It is common knowledge that we live in a celebrity culture. It has often been said that movie stars are America's royalty. But sometimes it is surprising just how deeply ingrained is our attraction to spectacle. Whether we stare at the lost souls on Jerry Springer, slow down to gawk at traffic accidents, or sheepishly investigate the tabloids in the checkout line, as a culture we resemble moths fluttering toward the intoxicating blue light of a bug zapper.

Living in a democracy built on principles of equality, one would think we would glorify the achievements of the "common man," and occasionally we do, when an ordinary joe jumps in a river to save a drowning child, or inner city neighbors join together to turn a vacant lot into a community garden. It's natural to celebrate these things. But why do we also glorify the obscenely rich, the anorexic supermodels, and the rest of our circus of stars? Do we have an innate need to vicariously share in the lives of the powerful and famous? Some would say yes: psychologists, folklorists and other researchers into our collective subconscious have pointed to the myth-making tendencies of all human societies. We like to deify and demonize things. They become cathartic focal points for all that unresolved tension bubbling beneath the conscious level of our daily lives. Well, that seems easy enough, if slightly pitiful. We are spectators to mythical actions which we rarely if ever experience directly in our own lives. Disgruntled employee guns down boss and co-workers. We would never do that, but somehow the idea is cathartic. Mick Jagger marries supermodel one-third his age. Well, that could still happen to me.

An alternate cultural view runs more along the lines of conspiracy theory: We are programmed to be voyeurs, to feed emotionally off of spectacle, as a substitute for real experience. Perhaps we are the pawns in a giant corporate chess game, trained from birth to turn emotional experience into a commodity, a financial transaction. Perhaps it is the trajectory of our messianic, monotheistic culture that seems to organize our experience into leaders and followers, stars and voyeurs.

What does this have to do with music? We can see the same relationships recreated in music. The most obvious example is the rock star, who occupies the pedestal next to the movie star in the shrine of our subconscious. What makes the rock star a cathartic focal point? Is it the music, the skill and artistic depth? Hardly. The "twenty year overnight success" pattern exposes that lie. A performer works for twenty years, playing to small crowds, building a following. Finally he gains major industry backing and is transformed into an overnight success. He plays stadiums instead of bars, with huge sound and lighting systems. He becomes a spectacle and is consequently deified. His shows, which involved a direct interaction with a small audience, now become settings for group catharsis, important (and expensive) life events for the audience. One has to ask if it isn't the sheer numbers in the audience and size of the production that make the experience cathartic.

In other words, like the death of a Kennedy, a rock star's life is a "blockbuster story," resonating on a mythical level in our cultural subconscious. In fact, if a public figure doesn't resonate, the corporate media machine often compensates and tweaks the figure until he/she does. If you're a star you can be deified or demonized, but you can't just go about your business.

However, the cultural landscape isn't all this bleak. It isn't all about misplaced veneration and cheap thrills. There are many examples of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things and being honored and appreciated accordingly, not as mythical figures, but as representatives of our potential, of the best that is within us all. I see this every day in the music world, in the relationship between teacher and student, and in the humility of wonderfully talented and hardworking musicians who, rather than get swelled heads with success, respect those who support and appreciate them.

It is important to remember that music is in itself cathartic, both for the performers and for the audience. Music doesn't need huge concert halls and laser shows to have a deep emotional impact. The less we depend on spectacle, on "blockbuster" marketing to define what is meaningful in our lives, the more we can open up to the emotional depth and beauty of our everyday experiences.


Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourselfby Rachel Staggs

Just stopping to use the bathroom in a local bookstore brought this unique, beautiful book into my life. If I had to choose one word to describe this book it would be HONEST. The author is a young woman in search of herself, which helps us find ourselves through reading her book. I took this book on a trip where I spent time alone and found myself writing more of my feelings down -- and owning them. I started painting in my journal and spent more time exploring. The pages of Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself (by Sabrina Ward Harrison, New World Library) are amazing; every inch is different than the rest. It screams originality. Pages are colored with paint, photos, intriguing words, musical scores, momentos, tea bags, and truthful sadness.

When I spoke with 23-year-old Sabrina Ward Harrison she was suffering from stomach ulcers in her home in Berkley, California. Despite her illness, Sabrina spoke with me about many of life's journeys, her current situation, and the future.

Harrison began to create and discover art in high school. She was encouraged to attend art school by a supportive teacher who saw that expressive spark in Sabrina. She began journaling in design school where she enrolled in a class called "Life Stories." She enjoyed this class tremendously, she says, and "journals became more interesting than the slick graphic design" classes. Unfortunately, mononucleosis took over her life and she was forced to leave school.

During her illness she called upon the author SARK for inspiration, leaving a message on SARK's "inspiration line." SARK called her back to thank her for openly sharing how "disheveled" she felt. The two began a friendship and Harrison started sharing her journals with SARK. After a while, SARK encouraged her to write a book. Harrison protested, thinking she was too young. In SARK's foreword to this book she writes, "Sabrina is a luminous mystery, a carousel of feelings, lumps and discoveries. If you could lie down with her journals, you would see genius. That genius is in this book. Yes, she is young. Thank god, we might get that much more from/of her." Sabrina Ward Harrison is younger than I am, and I feel completely connected to this book. It has nothing to do with age. On the back of her book, Harrison writes, "I often feel an overwhelming pressure to 'have it all together.' What is it? I feel young. I am young. I never passed algebra. I am a work in progress. This book is my life in progress. A growing expedition through the tangled and unfilled-in parts of understanding. My life, my truth, and myself. I want to share it. Welcome inside."

It's a brave step to open up to the masses about your fears and insecurities. Thank you, Sabrina Ward Harrison.

Harrison's inspirations include Anais Nin's journals and May Sarton's Journal of A Solitude. She is currently reading What We Know So Far, a compilation of women writing about what they have learned through their lives, as well as Promiscuities by Naomi Wolfe. She is deeply affected by artists Robert Rauschenberg and Brian Andreas who "used words and images together, broke rules with color, used old bits of fabric." Music is prevalent in Harrison's life. She mentions musicians like Lenord Cohen, Bob Dylan, Ani Difranco and the Indigo Girls on a page in her book. Underneath these musicians names, she has drawn a star with the phrase "all you need." Below this she writes music.

Currently, Sabrina Ward Harrison is teaching a class called "The Art of Becoming Yourself." She shares the art of journal-making with children. If only I had taken such a class during those junior high years, maybe I wouldn't have grown up so unsure of my identity. Harrison is teaching in California now, with thoughts of creating workshops around the country for young women. She also told me about her most recent odd job. The band Sixpence None The Richer asked Harrison to create a complete set for their new video. They read Spilling Open and wanted the book to come to life. They will be walking around as if they are in the book. Harrison created 24 paintings sized four feet by four feet along with the entire three-dimensional set. The video for "There She Goes" should be airing soon. In the future look for Harrison to bring another book of art to the world. She has plans for her second book full of experiences, possibly written on a drive across the country.

I recommend Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself to everyone, especially young women. Not only is it visually pleasing, creative in design and full of feelings that all people can identify with, it also inspires readers to search inside themselves, to communicate, and to love themselves.


Up All Night by Harold McMillan

It don't mean a thang, if it ain't ...Got that swing?

I do. I got it. And it's actually beginning to look like a lot of Austin is swinging too. There's a buzz about jazz in Austin again. The thing is, I think, there just might be a new swing to it, a new groove. It's not the same old jazz scene, not the same old players, not the same old audiences, and not the same old music, either.

To be honest, some of that truism is a bit troubling to me and other old heads in the scene. But, like it or not, there is a new under -- current in the scene. Over the years that I've been in Austin there have been these "movements" that come and go -- martini & cigar jazz, Stray Cats-Frank Sinatra swing, acid jazz, smooth-move-radio jazz. As a commercial enterprise, the swing stops as soon as whiskey sales slow. Now we are apparently in the middle of another scene maturation swing. The change. Maybe this one is analogous to mid-life mood swings. This one, this ripple might be more significant than many of the others that have occurred during the course of the last ten or fifteen years. A new Austin jazz paradigm for the new millennium?

Now one of the things that I know the most about is that I am sometimes wrong when I make these grand pronouncements about the cultural life of Austin. I keep making such statements in public because I too have been right on target a few times. So, here I go. I'm making a grand pronouncement of my observations, generalizing them, and claiming special insight based on my experience. As far as I know, everybody who pays attention to this kinda thing will simply see me as stating the obvious. Others will, once again, point out that I am off-base, dead-wrong, and ill-informed as to the significance of my musings.

Anticipating this, I freely admit now that everything I posit to you here is simply information and insight I got directly from conversations with my 15-month-old son, Hayes. As far as I can tell, he knows as much about what's going on with this jazz scene as the next commentator. The major difference is that he never lies, never bores me with details of HIS next project, is perfectly comfortable giving direct, emotional responses, and is genuinely interested in non-competitive cooperation for the health of the scene as a whole. He, without hesitation, true to the tradition, swings on 2-and-4. Know what I'm saying?

"So Harold," you might ask, "what is this new paradigm?"

The biggest thing, most significant change in the scene lately is that those of us who have been producing live jazz here for the past several years are no longer the only ones trying to make a go of it in the market place. To my way of thinking (and Hayes') that is really the news here. And that is also probably the most positive thing happening in the scene right now.

Don't get me wrong, I do want to protect, preserve and perpetuate control of my part of this turf. I need my shows to make, I need the Austin Jazz Festival to continue to be the biggest jazz week of the year, I still want and need market share. But, the way I see it, Austin is in the process of growing up as a city. It can't continue to be a one-horse-jazz-town. And it pretty much has been that for the last several (many) years. You know, it can't keep it's designation as the Live Music Capital of the Cosmos with one jazz booking agent, one group of jazz players, one jazz club, one set of Austin-style jazz standards, one segment of the potential jazz listening/paying audience. More producers/presenters/players means that the scene is growing, maturing, appealing to a broader cross section of the jazzheads in Austin.

Maybe you happen to be an 18-year-old college student who got turned on to jazz while you were at a party where a bunch of Groove Collective-like stuff was on the box all night long. Maybe you are a 28-year-old BMW-owning young professional who works at Dell Computer and is really into Boney James' and Kirk Waylum's smooth jazz CDs. Maybe you are a young artist-type, would-be film maker who got turned on to avant jazz because you were at a screening of films with Golden Arm Trio doing the soundtracks. Maybe you just love the new generation of jazz divas and go to every Women in Jazz performance. Maybe you are a retired corporate exec who is really into Dixieland and hangs out with the Traditional Jazz Society of Austin. Maybe you are a music journalist who only listens to the newest stuff from the New York underground. Maybe you are a lonely guy who has everything Cecil Taylor has ever recorded, go to New York and hang out at the Knitting Factory and who has lots of money to spend on noisejazz. Maybe you are a real academic music head and really love European concert music, classic third stream, and big band arrangements. Maybe you are almost 50-years-old, matured taking acid, listening to the Grateful Dead, and got turned on to Ornette Coleman by way of Jerry Garcia.

The big news is that, for the first time since I've been on the scene here, you can now find all of that stuff here. In terms of the big picture, and that is what I spend some amount of time looking at, that is the beginning of a real bona fide, true to life, diverse, mature jazz music scene. And that is what we need here, need to nourish, need to cultivate, need to promote. And -- this is for you folks out there who can afford to and should support this work -- this is what is deserving of corporate sponsorship, good audiences, and positive karma on the street.

I can't get out of this without just doing a little commercial for our work here at DiverseArts. The Austin Jazz and Arts Festival, true to form for a real celebration of the various traditions that make up the genre, touch on all of what I've mentioned here. We are not an every-night-of-the-year jazz night club. We are a celebration of the Austin Jazz Community, as a whole. We need your support, your gifts, your participation.

That's what Hayes told me, and I'm sticking to it.


Verities by Shilanda Woolridge

Resistance to doing what we know must be done is a derivative of fear. Fear is a tool of the ego. Fear, cleverly disguised as resistance, supports unwillingness. We are unwilling to be wrong, to look or sound stupid, to be challenged or defeated.
-- Iyanla Vanzant, One Day My Soul Just Opened Up

Everybody procrastinates. Even though punctuality is revered in our culture it seems natural to be late. We saunter in late to work, church, meetings, and parties. If you go to any college campus around finals time, you'll find students with coffee IVs in their arms trying to cram a semester's worth of material in a matter of days. We giggle and share war stories about the crusty dishes piled in the sink or the smelly pile of laundry that we ignore until we're down to our last pair of underwear. All of this is perfectly understandable. Most people avoid performing tasks they don't feel like doing. But it's a whole different ball game when one avoids the tasks they actually want to do.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? It starts out the same every time -- you find yourself interested in something and go after it gung-ho. Time passes and the deadline looms in the horizon. More time passes and the deadline creeps closer, and though it's time to take action, nothing happens, until in a fit of passion you complete the task. Once it's finished it's hard to receive any satisfaction from it because of the manner in which it was done. Then comes the stressing and second guessing, as you wonder "Did I do a crappy job?" or lament "Damn... I could've done better if I had given myself more time." You tell yourself that next time it will be different, I'll start earlier next time. Then the same thing happens again and again. The frame of reference here will be creative people and their artistic pursuits, but procrastination may plague you regardless of where your interests lie. Take a walk through any self-help section in a bookstore and you'll find dozens of books about improving scheduling and time management, getting "unstuck," becoming an effective person, and going after your dreams. Even though they may not use the P-word, they are all tackling the same issue.

I'll admit I have a bad habit of procrastinating. Once I've gotten started everything is fine. If the task is a creative one, then I find myself engrossed and enjoying the work; more than once I've worked in excess of twelve hours straight on various creative projects. It's baffling how a person who has the ability to work hard has so much trouble getting started. I have numerous friends and co-workers who conduct themselves in the same manner. During a conversation on leading a productive life a friend said "I've always done things this way. Yeah, it may get a little stressful at times but it always works out OK in the end."

Apparently she's not the only one who feels this way. In certain segments of Austin we have a "Slacker Culture"; and I've met quite a few slackers in my seven years of living here. One of the things that I've noticed is that most of these so-called slackers were ambitious big-talkers with even bigger dreams. If they weren't in a band, they were aspiring filmmakers who were penning their next script or preparing to shoot their first small feature. Time passes, you run into the same folks and they're still talking and have nothing to show for it. More time passes and they're still working on the same project or talking about new ones with the incomplete projects long forgotten. So why aren't these people with the big ideas accomplishing anything? Granted, there are all sorts of circumstances that throw a monkey wrench into the gears of life. Are they scared? Afraid of what will happen if they don't succeed? Perhaps they're more afraid of what will happen if they do.

I've chatted with other creative folks who are struggling with blocks to their productivity. Sometimes I think the main problem is a mix of performance anxiety and perfectionism. We're imperfect perfectionists, we want to do things perfectly the first time every time. No one wants to make any mistakes -- for some reason making a mistake can feel like a character flaw. You can't learn unless you make some mistakes. It's impossible to appreciate where you've come from if the ride has been smooth the whole time, so mistakes are an important part of the process. So then why do we avoid them so darn much? Sometimes the problem is that we don't have the skills to implement the ideas we have. You can't walk until you crawl, but some of us decide that we'd rather sit on our rump than scoot across the floor until our legs are ready to carry us. In a society built on instant gratification, we want it NOW!

Talent is a major component of success, but even more important are blood, sweat, and tears. Talented artists who sit on their hands aren't going to amount to much. In order to make a living as a creative person, you have to be on top of things 24-7. Hemming and hawing aren't going to get a habitual procrastinator where they want to be. So the first question they have to ask themselves is "Am I really serious about this?" If you are serious then get ready to do some hard work. There are no quick answers here, only questions. It takes time to develop self-sabotaging habits, and it takes time to break them. You may have to solicit the help of a therapist or support group to discover why you behave the way you do. The first step is to know why, and then turn things around. Everybody has different reasons for being stuck, but there are two myths that ALL procrastinators have to challenge:

  1. I DON'T FEEL LIKE IT or I'LL DO IT WHEN I FEEL LIKE IT You don't really have to feel like doing anything to get it done. Think back to childhood, did you ever feel like making your bed...but it got done didn't it?
  2. I GET BETTER IDEAS/FEEL MORE CREATIVE AT THE LAST MINUTE This is impossible to gauge because at the last minute you really don't have a choice, it's either publish or perish.

On a serious note, if you find yourself incapable of accomplishing anything to the point that you're not functioning at all you might be suffering from clinical depression. Sleeping excessively or not at all, feelings of sadness or worthlessness, and loss of interest in things you care about are all symptoms. The effects of depression can be curtailed with a combination of therapy and medication, if this sounds like you then get online and check out depression.com or Depression Central for some self-test and referral information.

Everybody has a God-given talent, a gift that is uniquely yours. Everyone has the ability to make a contribution. So what's yours? Are you sitting on an atom bomb of an idea? It won't blow up unless you light the fuse. It would be truly gauche to end on a commercial note, but I'm afraid that I'm gonna have to go there. The old Nike slogan "Just Do It" is a powerful one because that's all you can do. Find out what's holding you back, conquer it, and just do it (today, not tomorrow).