V6N4: December 2000
Volume 6 Number 4
Table of Contents
Bike Art Revolution by David Santos. 1
Austin's unique bike culture spans world class racing to the latest lowrider and subculture bikes. These emergent tribes create new music, visual arts, and literature centered on the bike.
By Definition: Media Arts by Susan Avecedo. 4
The Texas Commission on the Arts formed a Media Arts Task Force made up of arts organization leaders, television and radio producers, media educators and individual artists to discuss how best to nurture the media arts.
Confessions of a Media Junkie by Melissa Flores. 6
I have discovered real, non-commercial ART on the Internet.
Earth Lessons by Piper Anderson. 8
In my search for a definition that accurately describes what an artistic community should be I found myself looking to an indigenous ideology.
Editor's Note by Harold McMillan. 9
Art meets technology, the old Austin moving over to accommodate the digital Austin.
(an excerpt) geechee crossing marsha's overture a performance piece by Sharon Bridgforth. 9
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer. 10
Numerous studies have shown for decades now that Americans are getting smarter, more worldly, less naive, and yet also dumber, less informed and emotionally more immature. How is this possible?
saturday afternoon by Hilery Thomas. 11
The Sport of Business by Phil West. 12
Up All Night by Harold McMillan. 13
The Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival started small, was truly neighborhood based, and had that "Austin feel" that the old-timers talk about so much these days.
Valentine for a summer girl by Jeff Knight. 15
Verities by Ricardo Acevedo. 15
My dinner with ennui, or more whine with your past...ah?
Bike Art Revolution by David Santos
Spinning Light, Not too, Serious.
My Nomad Power.
Cross Sea to Old Garden,
To SpaceTime's Endo.
So Dangerous to be Free,
Yet fine to pedal Far.
Take Me to the Eldest Tree,
To Know Who We Are.
Whirr, Whirr, Click-click- click
"... the lyricism of marginality may find inspiration on the image of the "outlaw", the great social nomad, who prowls on the confines of a docile frightened order."
We are reborn Comanches in a new golden age. The bike is a central symbol of a creative nonviolent sustainable future. Human power is obviously the most advanced and sexiest form of energy. Bike nomads roam an infinite universe, a cosmic paradise. Cheap, small, and powerful, the Bike is true underdog technology; escapist, activist, iconoclastic, and libertarian.
Art in all its forms is integral to the exploding bike movement. Bike culture is thriving the world over, given real sustainability, social justice, and quality of life. Modern bike activism includes mass rides, opportunities for youths, recycled bikes for global cooperatives, and local "yellow bikes". Austin's unique bike culture spans world class racing to the latest lowrider and subculture bikes. These emergent tribes create new music, visual arts, and literature centered on the bike.
The art bike is performative visual art. It signifies itself directly, not like some poem or painting of a bike. The bike is the window to the rider's soul. The art gallery is an affront to a world with so much homelessness and resource waste. Cultures create the best art when it is integral with central artifacts. Visual expression runs riot in cultures were the bike is supreme, with every embellishment imaginable. Knowing that the bike is it, we create at the highest level. This is "art for everything's sake"...call it maximalism.
Art began as bodily ornamentation some hundred thousand years ago, before substantial mediums like architecture. Vehicular art dawned with early wheels some ten thousand years ago. Bike art is the most intimate vehicular art, close to costume. Art is cosmetic prosthesis and courtship or ontological display. Ride the right bike and everyone sees you are cool.
Picasso made a bull head from handlebars and seat, as found art, and Duchamp mounted a front fork on a stool to signify absurdity. Solar/computer/communications technology bikes (Behemoth, Winnibiko) designed by Steve Roberts reached a vast audience in the eighties. Bikus, a community bike shop in Phoenix, leads the new wave, producing numerous bike art sculptures and public amenities like bike racks, from salvaged bike parts.
The welder's torch is a universal Promethean wand for creating bike mutants by welding, bending, and cutting. The wizard shop rat brings dead machines to life with simple tricks and tools. Mutant Bike Design/Build, Homebrew Trikes, Cargo Bikes, Tall Bikes, Recumbents, and Trailers. The gene pool is the sum of all bike parts and concepts -- Bike DNA. There is a great genetic diversity in the amateur nursery, with constant geneflow via bike salvage, cannibalism, and copying.
From popular ferment new types emerge, complete genotypes from the streets adopted by manufacturers, and old types die out. Vestigial parts, frozen gears, odd noises, rust and bumps, weird blends of formerly distinct classes; child bikes get tall seat posts and bars and become cool adult bikes, cargo trailers and other mutants spin off the genepool. Frankenstein bikes resurrected in the bone yard follow new rules unforeseen by creators. Every bike part has reuses, just as natives used every part of the buffalo. Specific bike types find special use. For great cargo vehicles, mountain bikes have stronger frames, a super low "granny gear" (a tiny front chain ring), and stronger brakes. Road bikes have fine light parts and big frames suitable for flying bikes, tall bikes, and such.
Female touring frames are perfect for certain recumbent and trailer designs. Step-thru frames are very handy for bikes with high backed seats and loads. Kid's bikes stretch into semi-recumbent choppers, stretching the fork, backstays, seat tube, and bars.
Bike salvage is art evolving into science. Homebrew wheels have a fertile fragrant aura, while an object produced for money sends off a sterile dead vibe. A consumer bike pales next to a one-of-a-kind freak. There are actually more kinds of loner mutants than commercial models. Cherry Mutants are showy, highly groomed, mint condition freak bikes. Lowriders are cherry while freaks are ratty.
The arrow of time flies from profane to sacral. The bike is a compass needle aiming at that sacral future, blazing a path to salvation, a mystery of wheels. The Heavens wheel endlessly; the universe revolves giddily about every wheel, down to the smallest particle. Spin about and one gets dizzy, a profound altered state sought by children, but nauseating to adults. Earth and moon are a cosmic bicycle. However fast a wheel rolls, the point in contact with the ground is stationary in an atom of space-time. Bike and rider are self similar, merging as a hyper-dimensional constellation of vortices.
Relics are sacred manifestations of matter. Bikes make practical relics. Latino and South Asian bikes are hyper-baroque devotional objects complete with altars. Lowrider bikes champion an esthetic of the "unreal" (Lowrider Magazine).
The bike as a mechanical underdog whose social mythology tends toward trickster and wolf. Bikes naturally transgress borders that stop cars and trucks. Even tanks can't follow mountain bike paths. The bike can be carried over walls and cliffs and outrace hounds. Bikes hide out indoors with people. Bullets tend to fly right through them.
A bike can escape imprisonment on the wing, a recurrent theme of cinema. Steve McQueen's or E.T.'s famous jumps (Free Willie, about a killer whale, also fits this theme). Mythic bike outlaws abound; Young Che touring South America. Smuggling ET in flying bike, the seventies urban dope runner's ten speed, Hell's Angels style motorcycle gangs, McQueen's jump from prison camp, Evil Kineval, Easy Rider, and bike courier as crazy counter culturalist, symbiotic yet resistant to power.
Virtually all bikers are outlaws, willfully violating this or that traffic law, since many such laws are flawed. The bike is so inherently free that registration by the state has generally failed. The modern bike activist is often afoul of police, occupying the same space, but of a counterculture. Cultural profiling by police tends to make the eccentric biker a suspect, while the reality is often that the tattooed, pierced, wild haired freak is a gentle pacifist vegetarian.
Austin's bike underground centers on collectives such as the Yellow Bike Project (457-9880) and Bikes not Bombs (926-4725) and the Technomadic Circus, radical gardeners, political activists, artists' circles. Dr. Ellen Spiro of UT is planning a documentary on the Technomadic Circus. Amy Babich, Austin cycling's Joan of Arc, rides an intensely decorated recumbent.. The Nomadic Festival, End of the World Circus, and other performance collectives have seeded Austin. Juan Martinez's energy and genius sparked much of the current art bike scene.
The Cathedral of Junk and other yard art uses bike parts. My new home is a tiny cluster of bubbles of stone, glass, and bike parts, in rebellion to the joyousness of common architecture. Dave Baker and Jeremy Rosen maintain a mutant shop producing mostly awesome cargo bikes. Jay Beeson crafts very fine mutants. Duke is our grand patriarch who has welded cargo trikes for recycling since the early eighties. Ed Sapir, Jake, Troy, Fred Normal, Spencer, Jason and many others build strange rides from old bikes. Bill Twitchel is a noted Austin bike artist. Brooks Coleman made numerous sculptures and robots from bike parts in the late eighties. Bikes not Bombs (BnB) has nurtured the local bike movement since the eighties, spinning off community bike shops in over a dozen countries, gestated the Yellow Bike Project, and continues to evolve new models of bike activism.
Austin has a fine tech art tradition, from Silicon Barrio to the Robot Group. Most importantly, we are believers in the use of muscle-powered steeds which augment the physiology of their riders. After the imminent Apocalypse, gasoline and bullets will be rare. Those who already ride bicycles and shoot bb guns and slingshots today will easily dominate the huddled masses tomorrow. The laws of physics will change as well. Bicycles that are rideable now will be unrideable in the future, while our apparently foolish machines lay waste to the world. And you thought you knew about ART!
By Definition: Media Arts by Susan Avecedo
The Texas Commission on the Arts formed a Media Arts Task Force made up of arts organization leaders, television and radio producers, media educators and individual artists to discuss how best to nurture the media arts, a young and emerging field with it's own special needs and challenges.
What are the media arts?
Electronic Media: video, computer arts and radio.
Film, Mixed Media Arts: a collaborative effort between different disciplines that includes electronic media and/or film.
What is unique about the media arts?
Because of the nature of the medium, the media arts have a unique set of attributes that don't affect other arts. It often requires collaboration between several artists The artist is usually not in control of the equipment.
It requires tremendous organization and coordination of both resources and people. It generally takes an extended time to finish a project. It requires a lot of specialized equipment. It often requires a special venue that may only be able to show the work for a very limited amount of time. However, more and more artists are drawn to the media arts as the most relevant form of art for the 21st century. As a newer, still-developing medium, it needs more funding and publicity to nurture it through it's early stages.
A filmmaker typically might spend two years working with a crew of other artists on a project that may only be viewed by a very small number of people.
It is a developing art and not established like museums, dance theatre, ect., and does need extra money and publicity.
What are the Challenges?
How to teach Texas children to understand, critique, and produce media art in a rapidly changing world where they are constantly bombarded with new sources of information. How to bring artists, organizational leaders, and other media arts members together so they can learn from one another. How to reach all areas of Texas when most of the art and the artists are concentrated in major cities. How to change the perception of media arts as strictly a commerce-based craft rather than an art form as valid and vibrant as any other. How to fund artists and organizations when media arts expertise is under-represented on local arts councils.
What are the Recommendations?
Media Literacy & Education Promote media literacy to children through schools and youth organizations. Develop teaching programs including teachers and local artists. Provide more equipment by working with access TV, community colleges and schools. Develop other programs such as festivals and state competitions.
Networking & Professional Development
There is no statewide meeting for the media arts. Media artists, educators, and administrators have few opportunities to meet and discuss their field. This particularly hurts media artists who aren't located in major metropolitan areas, because they don't have the chance to meet other artists or to find the means to create and display their work.
There should be a statewide media arts conference held annually, that includes information about where to show work, education about equipment, mentoring, and showcasing work Encourage media arts organizations to take better advantage of TCA's Texas Apprenticeship Program.
Touring & Programming
TCA has seen a decline in touring and programs in the last few years. This is despite the fact that lower-priced technology has made it easier to create and distribute high-quality programming. We need to compile a database of sites that present media art and put it on the web. Encourage use of TCA's Media Arts Touring catalogue & funding programs.
Empower public libraries to exhibit media arts & to apply for TCA funding. Encourage geographic expansion of media arts, and support smaller markets for funding and touring media arts projects.
Needs of Individual Artists
It is more difficult for media artists to display their work. There are greater technological barriers, the work requires a vehicle, it requires a venue and set show times. Equipment is expensive and in many cases a crew of people is needed to help create the work. So most media artists are based in major metropolitan areas because there is more access to equipment and people. However despite this fact, the media artists still have trouble competing for local funding since it is a specialized and emerging field and not as well represented or understood on local arts boards. We must encourage new media artists through the public education system. Increase education about availability of funds.
Increase education campaigns for existing arts groups and artists. Keep an archive of work and provide a statewide census of services.
Because the field of media arts is so new and unique, it has special funding needs that can't be compared with more traditional arts. Funding for media arts needs to be centralized, so this emerging field can be nurtured, and so all Texas media artists can have access to the funding. We must encourage applications in the media arts and simplify the application process. Ensure that the media arts application are reviewed by qualified media arts experts. Promote media arts touring programs, especially in smaller communities.
What is the Consensus?
TCA must take a more proactive approach to the media arts, emphasizing education, sponsoring statewide meetings, developing more programming, and providing centralized funding.
One thing that's important is not only to fund this work but to celebrate it, to get it out and distribute it.
For more information, contact the:
Texas Commission of the Arts
P O Box 13406
Austin TX 78711
Confessions of a Media Junkie by Melissa Flores
The ability to communicate is what keeps humans at the top of the food chain. Our communication skills are directly responsible for advances in technology, art and culture.
Essentially humans are bundles of cells that can't survive without communicating, and we've developed some pretty awe inspiring communication networks. That's how I justify the fact that I am a pop media junkie.
I have a really fast Internet connection at my day job. And since being an administrative assistant isn't exactly brain science, I spend an unreasonable amount of time online. I found out that the Internet is good for more than just downloading MP3's, entering sweepstakes and reading about places I'd rather be.
I also discovered real, non-commercial ART on the Internet.
A good general-purpose music website is www.music.com. You can download music, watch videos and link to artist websites. You can also find links to record labels.
Check out www.blastro.com to see weekly Internet shows hosted by local DJ's. They also have music videos and animation.
One of my favorite stops when I'm online is at www.luakabop.com, David Byrne's world music label. It is quite possibly the most versatile label on earth. It's home to artists like Zap Mama ("soul music for the diaspora"), Los Amigos Invisibles (Venezuelan funk pop) and Susana Baca (traditional Afro-Peruvian). You can also have Luaka radio streamed to you for your listening enjoyment.
Local musician/multimedia artist Andrew Barron has a site for his project entitled www.centuryplant.com. Century Plant is a one person performance art/musical presentation that incorporates musical recording, live/recorded music, film, theater and interactive mechanical and digital technology to portray an absurdist's philosophy of life and escape.
Produced by the Musicology Dept. at the University of California at Los Angles, www.humnet.ucla.edu/echo/splashflash is an online peer-reviewed journal featuring articles, reviews and interviews concerning musicians and musical experiences. Visually appealing and nicely designed, the journal covers both classical and popular music.
If you're interested in film, www.ifilm.com is the place. Anyone can send their films in for free publication on the site. There are tons of films in a number of genres. Definitely check out Herd by Mike Mitchell. It's about a space alien and the guy he enlists to help him do his evil bidding. It's the funniest short film I've ever seen. The animation version of ifilm is www.16color.com. Anyone can go there and use the animation machine to create cartoons and publish them on the site for free.
A good start is the Rhizome ArtBase www.rhizome.org.This is a non-profit project archives art created specifically for the net, or that uses it as a medium. They have some pretty fascinating web cam projects.
Another is www.milkyelephant.com, a site that showcases the artwork of three graphic artists. Eun-Ha Paek is the creator of the animation. It features a story of a cute but sinister elephant and a girl who is a member of the Byzantine church and a robot dancer.
"Genesis," by artist Eduardo Kacis, is a multimedia installation involving the mutations of an artificial protein imprinted with Morse code and accompanied by DNA-synthesized music. Another Kacis work of art is to create a bunny using an version of the gene that makes some jellyfish fluorescent. The end result is that, under the right light, the bunny glows green. View these projects from a link at www.ekac.org.
An interesting and visually appealing site, www.artandculture.com links to a variety of resources related to the visual arts, performing arts, design, literature, music, and film. From the main page, visitors can access the Arts or Culture sections or go directly to a number of Arts entries listed in six categories.The culture section of the site is somewhat different, with links to travel, food, sports, festivals, and other cultural information organized by region. The section also offers some world cams and a feature on visual culture.
Another good site to hit is www.mowa.org. This is a very clever, funsite.The first time I went there I laughed out loud three or four times. I recommend taking a virtual tour of the museum with Kendra, the tour guide.
Speaking of sites that make me laugh out loud, I'll leave you with www.theonion.com. This is the website of the satirical newspaper that has headlines like "Area Man Can Actually Feel The Advanced Vapor Action Working" and "Area Bedroom Has That Weird Jeff Smell, Housemates Report." It just cracks me up.
Anyway, that's about all I have for this month. Plus I better get back to work, M.L.
Earth Lessons by Piper Anderson
In my search for a definition that accurately describes what an artistic community should be I found myself looking to an indigenous ideology. My search came to an end when I found the Dagara peoples' definition of community. The Dagara are a tribe in the country of Burkina Faso located in West Africa. The Dagara believe a community is a group of individuals living together who make it their duty to insure that each of the members of the commune fulfill their individual purpose or destiny. To be distracted from fulfilling ones' destiny can have a detrimental impact on the entire unit. The Dagara ideology of community affirms my belief that fulfillment of our individual purpose is essential to the evolution of us all.
Artists especially have a major role in our evolution because the power to create is the greatest gift we possess. In Dagaran thought artists are seen as priest or priestess of the sacred. They possess the power to see into other worlds and communicate with Spirit. That's why in many indigenous societies art is viewed as a functional commodity. Its purpose is to please Spirit, never to simply entertain people.
There have certainly been periods in my three year residence in Austin when I felt the sense of community that the Dagara speak of. I give thanks for the family of individuals I am to depend on as community. They have been instrumental in helping me reach this point in my artistic journey.
A year ago a group of young poets, including myself, were led through a weekend writing workshop by poet and playwright Sharon Bridgforth. The experience was like a ritual for the development of an artistic community. Sharon is a powerful facilitator, an elder who understands the indigenous definition of community. She made it her responsibility to gather a group of young poets together in order to teach us the challenging responsibility we garner as artist. I left the retreat center that weekend with a focused mind, intent on fulfilling what I felt was my newfound duty as an artist: to speak the truth given to me to please the Spirit. Over the months since the retreat that group of poets kept in contact, meeting on a regular basis with Sharon and her partner Luz', to relearn our history and ourselves.
An artistic community maintained with the purpose of developing artistic gifts of each individual involved is a powerful entity capable of overcoming any injustice. But artists must be truly willing to take on the responsibility of their title has connoted since antiquity: to be creators, manifesting a more peaceful, balanced world. It is extremely difficult to create an artistic community that will thrive when individuals are faced with living in a very individualistic, consumer society that worships technology. Only a strong artistic community can save the many gifted artisans whose talents are needed to move a western world to the indigenous ideology of communal living.
Editor's Note by Harold McMillan
Greetings from DiverseArts World Headquarters.
This is our last issue for the year 2000. And, geeze, what a year this one has been! The new century, the new economy, new ways of connecting the arts and technology, and for a lot of people, new concern about the direction of quality of life issues for Austin. In our pages this month are bits and pieces of our take on these changing times. Art meets technology, the old Austin moving over to accommodate the digital Austin.
There is friction here: some folks see us at the dawning of new good times, others mourn the lost of the old, analogue Austin. Although most of what you read here embraces the new, I think the jury is still out on just how the cultural soul of Austin will fare, as it is effected more and more by high tech power brokers.
Globally, the high tech revolution will continue to give the arts world more and more cool new gadgets and innovative technological tools.
Locally, I fear that the tech invasion just might make Austin into a soul-less town too expensive for artists to survive.
(an excerpt) geechee crossing marsha's overture a performance piece by Sharon Bridgforth
double dip step quick
hips shaking booty quaking back snaking
twirl/front and back and front and back
into the Light
party ova here
i am keeping time with hope
heal and toe and heal and toe and heal heal
i am very busy
in my Life.
holding never regainable moments lost to senseless acts of looking and hiding and looking
looking/for hope between the beats of unavailable beauties/dancing wide hipped honey-smiles/holding
too many drinks/one too many
too many times reaching for unclaimable thoughts/full of self-selected doses of unreality/passing tim
e i juggle bits of my mind mid-air/lose a little here
a little there
sleep walk through
Ancestral dreams/blood memories
piece of sanity/i hold
i can not give a linear thought
to the issue of
so i offer a word-quilt woven pictures a glimpsing ride/an exploration of love/strength and laughter unearthed by tear-born prayer
an experimental lament of some of the ways that
in order to keep our Spirits
an create balance
where there is none.
please pray for those we've lost.
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer
There's a lot to be said for the old political slogan found on aging Volvos across America: Think Globally, Act Locally. It can be interpreted on several levels. Internationalism political activism, which is directed toward sweeping global issues like colonialism and environmental reclamation,creates a wide angle lens through which to see our lives. This helps us overcome the kinds of self-interest that create barriers between us, like class, sex, race.
What does this have to do with new media? There is a contradictory trajectory in America, directly linked to media and education. Numerous studies have shown for decades now that Americans are getting smarter, more worldly, less naive, and yet also dumber, less informed and emotionally more immature. How is this possible?
Due to our incredible wealth as a nation, and certain safeguards built into the Constitution, we have more access to information than perhaps any other nation. Technological breakthroughs have created an information explosion so that the populace as a whole is more informed than ever before. It is now easy to "think globally," just log onto the Internet. We tend to not think globally, however, but rather excessively locally, which explains why porn is by far the largest sector in cyberspace.
Even for those whose local thinking isn't restricted to sex, the information glut combined with the increasing specialization of vocational education make it hard to think globally. We tend to be selectively smart, and generally uninformed.
This is especially true of technocratic and scientific fields, but it is becoming more common as the human database continues to expand. Take music, for example. How many of us are very familiar with one genre but totally ignorant of so many others. The cliche for me is the hundreds and thousands of people whose only awareness of jazz is Kenny G.
One obvious solution to the information overload is networking. We are all becoming specialists, but we can help each other stay abreast of important issues, events and changes in our various fields by networking. We can connect to sites on the world-wide web, or we can create links in real space by organizing eventsm workshgops and newsletters.
There are also national periodicals devoted to consolidating and summarizing information. The Utne Reader and the World Press Review are two journals which help us think globally, even if it's just for five minutes in the bathroom before returning to local drudgery. Increasingly, we need to take this approach to keep abreast of all that is going on. Part of the task for progressive media is not just to provide information, but to break through the local barriers by making it clear why we need this information. To wax philosophical for a moment, the problem is not unlike the Zen quest for enlightenment. This type of understanding goes beyond merely accumulating informational data, to a perception of the inter-linking nature of reality. Whatever your area of expertise, if you pursue enlightenment, dig deeper into your specialized knowledge, you begin to see patterns which connect your area to others. Progressive media has a number of templates handed down from previous generations of struggle, such as the trade union movement of the 1930s, the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, and the alternative press of the 1970s. But we are at a point where previous cultural activism must be synthesized into a new model of activism, in which new media like the Internet can simultaneously reach a widely varied demographic. It is all too easy to preach to the choir, but this will mostly just restate our local differences. The challenge is to break through the information overload and find ways to build a real global consciousness.
saturday afternoon by Hilery Thomas
with cigarettes and coffee
sitting with Mozart, we discuss
meditation, quality of life,
and the lazy science of smoke
his sick face as he confesses his
funeral march to Solierei,
huge music translated
in a green whisper
the scratch of a quill
steam from the coffee
cradled in weak slanting sunlight
the day's first pangs of hunger
my wilting narcissus
evening bluing the living room walls
Mozart is dead, the violins
are dancing underwater
an oboe sobs
the chorus dreams of
cold, dark sleep and a very
The Sport of Business by Phil West
The phone is no longer a phone. It is
a nerve ending, giving you a piece
of my desk, a Pavlov's bell, the sharp
rings and pauses. You send relief, shame,
the opening of ulcers down the line.
The rings come then don't come, and in those
feeble-fisted hours where silence
aches and blossoms each fresh bell, you are
there, seeing the glasses half-empty.
Crushing the paper birds in your fist.
Combing for failure, roughed edges, stray
fibers in the fabric. The photos
document your walk across spines, and
you patrol for the telltale red spots
in the eyes, the calling card of flash
bulb amateurs, knowing we'll do it
over, same people same poses
until it is perfect and perfectly
owned. We watch you ascend each arched back, each vertebrae a rung.
You are those slow headlights down the street, across our windows,
the thing that can't be killed. We
have drifted early, to our beds, dead
wood, offered up, for execution.
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
Season wrap up
Our most recent issue was also the official publication of this season's Austin Jazz and Arts Festival. Those of you who read us regularly know that we (DiverseArts) are also a producing/presenting organization and that for the past 12 years we have produced the fest. It started out as the Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival: a celebration of that neighborhood's African American cultural roots, its will to survive in the face of (at the time) yuppie encroachment, and the parallel kinds of issues that the jazz/blues/world music communities in Austin face. The festival started small, was truly neighborhood based, and had that "Austin feel" that the old-timers talk about so much these days.
At times the Clarksville Fest was also the production nightmare from hell-small staff, unfunded, volunteer driven, a few hostile neighbors, and "establishment music industry folks and jazz mafia" who did nothing to support our efforts at bringing the community together. We struggled through, got support from folks who really understood and believed in our mission.
Within four years we started to do what a lot of folks thought would never happen: we got great press, attracted larger crowds, booked really good local players and some national headliners, and-oh yeah-kept coming back each year. It felt good, hard work, but felt good. It wasn't a big beer party. It wasn't us against them. There was programming for the whole multicolored, multi-generational family. It was really an art and culture-based music festival that, I thought, just needed to find its niche of support. We needed a home-base and we needed money to pay folks. Seemed simple enough.
We also made the mistake, perhaps, of counting on continued growth, high-tech corporate sponsorship, cooperation and support form the City's Parks Department, and a blossoming of a support base that would allow us to continue to professionalize our operation.
In short, we, too soon, got too big for our britches. To be most honest, I should say that I got too big for mine. My vision out-ran my Austin, Texas reality. The crowds got better, so I tried to attract big money sponsorship by pumping up the programming.
We expanded to a week of programming. Then we did a run of under-funded seasons that, artistically, culturally, were great. McCoy Tyner, Charles Neville, James Clay, Jimmy Smith, Ellis Marsalis, Cornell Dupree, Bobby Bradford, Roy Hargrove and Crisol (Chucho Valdez, Russell Malone, Sherman Irby, David Sanchez, Frank Lacy!), Jason Marsalis, Oliver Lake, Kenny Garrett (with Kenny Kirkland and Jeff Watts, Dammit!!), Nicholas Payton, Mark Whitfield, Ray Barretto, Stefan Harris.
Now, I gotta tell ya, in my head I'm thinking that is the stuff that is gonna put us over the top. Nobody else in town, nobody, was doing that kinda of serious jazz programming (he said, conceitedly). Let alone the fact that we are a non-profit outfit, not a commercial promoter. It all made sense to me.
So, you might ask, what has happened with those predictions. Did the New Economy-driven new wealth set us up for future success? Did the Parks Department bring us under their wing and actually help us produce in Pease Park? Did the music union come on-board and offer help and sponsorship (we did ask, repeatedly)?
I'll do this part in short order because, really, I'm headed on to other issues. We were driven out of Pease Park, moved to Waterloo (the Parks Department's designated music park these days), changed our name to Austin Jazz Fest, are still waiting for Dell and AMD to return our phone calls and letters. Over the course of three or four years we got serious about our jazz programming and seriously lost our shorts.
And you know, the thing about losing your shorts is that, even if you can't find them, almost everybody else in town gets to see them until you do find them. At this point, I'm embarrassed by the number of folks who were forced to get a glimpse, if you know what I mean.
So, after 12 years we are pretty much back to square one. At the end of the 1999 Waterloo Park festival I announced what I and all of our directors thought was the only logical statement to make: we were beaten, we would not do a Waterloo Park show in 2000. At the time we felt that we would simply do a few club dates for this season, and that would be Jazz Fest 2000. Perhaps the last one.
In the summer of 2000, low and behold, East 11th Street beckoned.
I don't know how many of you, especially those who have attended past Clarksville Festivals, were in the audience this September. But, this year's smaller, gentler Festival, outside next to and inside the Victory Grill, was really a cool event. It had a lot to do with that hard-to-put-your-finger-on feeling and vibe present in the air.
I do not want to upset the guy who wrote the Verities piece on page one, but this year's festival truly did have that "old Austin feeling." The size of the crowd, the personal warmth and friendliness of the fans and vendors, the intimacy of the performances was very much akin to the spirit of the first few festivals we did years ago in Clarksville. And I think that whole "feeling thing" had a lot to do with the fact that we really did try to make the Festival vibe with the neighborhood that hosted us, tried to localize it enough that there was a sense of community built in. It helped that we offered the show for free and collected food for East Side food banks. But more than that, the show had such a good human groove, it once again energized us to look to a future for the festival with East Austin as our home-base.
Perhaps being this close, once again, to square one is not really a bad thing. East 11th Street itself, in fact the entire neighborhood adjacent to the Victory Grill and the lot on which we staged our outdoors show, is once again very close to square one, a new beginning of sorts. And that has a lot to do with why I am so jazzed about the potential for the festival's rebirth.
As East 11th Street's revitalization process moves ahead, as it once again invites new music venues, restaurants, and shops to call the East Side home, we want to do everything we can make sure that a sense of cultural integrity moves forward into the future as well.
As Austin continues to capitalize on the spoils of the New Economy, as downtown Austin continues to be priced out of reach for most small companies, as central city housing prices go through the roof, you can bet that the East Side is the next new extension of the central business district. Tech companies just might be the new investors, new developers and tenants of the New East Side. The challenge for those of us who already live and work in East Austin, and for those folks who might be moving their businesses here, is to learn from the mistakes that are currently playing out downtown.
As we work to revitalize the East Side, let's do so in such a way that it retains its soul. There are lessons to be learned here. Yes, at some level I am talking about finding a support base for our cultural programs, especially the Jazz Festival. But more than that I trying to remind folks that East 11th Street, for instance, was once the thriving cultural/entertainment district that gave birth to Austin's jazz and blues community. Revitalization means just that. Bring on the New Economy, just keep the East Side's soul.
Valentine for a summer girl by Jeff Knight
On the last page of the first chapter
she sank to the occasion like a sutra
in translation, divorced from laughter.
A St. Bernard in a red bandanna
made her think of brandy kegs and snow,
as she sat reading on her cotton blanket
at the park, feeling the loneliness grow
green as precious stones, tight as a closed throat.
She felt like matter shifting from phase
to phase, a choirgirl chanting peyote
rhymes, a dancing bird in a paper cage,
lesser scavengers snagging scraps from Coyote,
clever as time's seamstress, with the future
still there to be stitched, suture by suture.
Verities by Ricardo Acevedo
My dinner with ennui, or more whine with your past...ah?
Class. Lack of it, being a slave to your strata or just being judged by it, has always plagued me. Whether I'm carousing with some of my funky art geek cronies or falling pray to some of sort official climb, I always find my self consumed with social class idioms.
Also, I've moved around a lot. Up and down the west coast, the southwest, with forays into NY and Mexico why did I end up in Austin? Good question.
Try this for a mantra, now is good.
I listen. which is to say at night around 6th st and the warehouse district, i have a tendency to eavesdrop. And well not just there but say at Flips or at an ArtPlex soiree or across at the Dog & Duck, sometimes down at the Continental or at an opening at Laughing at the Sun. Well, I guess everywhere I go I'm consumed with conversation about the longing for the Old Austin. Hmmm. Well, let's see, I guess there's another point I'm trying to make and that's that as I move about like a cultural ghost the same people that I hear bemoaning a bygone era I never see at any venue like the new Mercury or the 710 or stomping around Stubbs or maybe even the Atomic, but hey, people sit and bitch there too. Social regionalism, point in time fascism...oh excuse me, I mean nostalgia is really just whining dressed up as camaraderie. Just once I like to see some folks that I'm stirring up conversational stew with at the D&D or down at say, the Ritz (upstairs) waxing drunk and chagrined about never taking the time to support new Austin. And I just don't mean my 40-something peers, but the 30-year-old teenagers already getting crotchety and corpulent about the passing of the Liberty Lunch while never going to let's say...some gig at the Merc, groovin' to Hairy Apes or mind and body melding with a Laura Scarborough show. Maybe its a romantic southern thing to dwell in the past, but me, I prefer promise to quasi-memories addled by drugs and liquor. Don't get me wrong, I was there in 1992 during a Phish show running on into 4 hours at the Lunch or to change geography a bit in my hometown of San Bernardino Ca, stomping ground for Frank Zappa and Sammy Hagar hangin out at the Swing Auditorium while the Winter Bros & Darringer jammed till 3am or in the '80s rubbing elbows and blows with the Dead Kenndys, Wall of Voodoo, Faith No More...yadda, yadda. But now I look back on that shit (Zappa the exception here) and yawn. Ah, if only pop culture where as important as it claims in the moment.
Security in a world as velocity inclined as ours breeds body fat. If you're comfortable with comfort zones defined by romantic backsliding, that's cool, (for you) but as a whole I see these dreamy backward glances part in parcel anathema to the death of soul.
OK, OK, yes the past has wonderful lessons to impart but I still contest that the hybrid should be the goal.
You with that acoustic guitar, have you ever watched the finesse of a succinct DJ?
You with the tablas, your knowledge of time would create intricate programmed time signatures moving your rhythms into melody.
(And to counter), Have you ever heard Zappa's music freed of electronics? I hear Jazz in everything, but i don't count on it.
How many Austinites does it take to screw in a light bulb? 7: one to actually do it, and 6 to sit around and complain about how good the old light bulb was.
The tool of time strips out the screw holding up the knocker...anyone home?