Future of the arts

Published 6:01 am Monday, January 9, 2017

Despite being just days old, 2017 is shaping up to be a busy year for the Austin Area Commission for the Arts.

For starters, there’s new leadership as Laura Helle continues adapting to being the AACA’s second executive director. Then the AACA is working hard toward one of its big longterm goals: an expansion of the Historic Paramount Theatre as the AACA and city of Austin are working toward a deal for the AACA to acquire the current Austin Parks, Recreation & Forestry office immediately to the west of the Paramount.

And as they start talking about the 2017 Austin ArtWorks Festival, organizers will discuss possible locations for the future festivals as the downtown Austin Municipal Plant, which has hosted each festival, will eventually become the Austin Community Recreation Center.

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Gauging public interest

Before the big discussions ramp into high gear, Helle is starting simple by asking the public what they want at the Paramount.

The Paramount is seeking public input through a survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CMKVYFP to gauge, as Helle put it: “What kind of music would you choose over your couch?”

“Trying to get a beat on what people are looking for and what’s missing in this market,” she said. “That’s going to help shape the direction that we go as well.”

Helle admits she’s not a music expert, but she’s striving to base Paramount shows and programming around what the community as a whole will be excited to come and experience.

“We really want the Paramount Theatre to be a community theater and we want more and more people in Austin to think of it as a place that they love to go and a place that they find the entertainment they’re looking for,” she said.

Helle is excited to help forge a dynamic schedule based on what excites the public, though she noted it will have to be within the Paramount’s means and reach — she joked the Paramount won’t be able to bring in someone like Taylor Swift, no matter how many people mention it in the survey.

While Helle is new to the role of recruiting acts and organizing a schedule, she said she can utilize the Minnesota Presenters Network, an organization that helps small theaters and organizations line up entertainment. A friend working in the arts in Iowa has even recommend she consider joining the Iowa Presenters Network too since Austin is so close to the border.

Plus, the AACA and Paramount do have a good working relationship

Helle continues working on more 2017 programming and shows as shows get underway for the new year. A holdover, After Christmas At Home, kicked off the Paramount’s year after being postponed due to winter weather in December.

Then Denny and the D.C. Drifters Dance Party is slated for 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 14 to pay homage to Buddy Holly, who died after his plane crashed after a winter dance party in Iowa.

“That’s going to be a pretty big show for us,” Helle said.

Matchbox Children’s Theatre will present William Glennon’s new adaptation of “Cinderella” at 7 p.m. on Jan. 27 and 2 p.m. on Jan. 28 and 29.

Tonic Sol Fa. Photo provided

Tonic Sol Fa. Photo provided

Tonic Sol-fa, a local favorite, returns to the Paramount at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 3.

“They’ve got quite a following in this area, so we’re happy to have them back,” Helle said.

At the ArtWorks Center, a gallery opening for Paul Walech-Roth will be held in the second floor gallery from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 13.

Then the next ArtWorks Jam Session returns at 7 p.m. on Jan. 20 after a break for the holidays.

“Those have been really popular, full house kind of deals,” Helle said.

The Northwestern Singers are slated to perform their annual winter show at 7 p.m. March 4 at the Paramount.

A tweaking and a major project

While Helle is looking ahead toward major renovations with the Paramount expansion, part of her transition into the executive director role has been made easy.

The ArtWorks Center and its retail space had its best year in 2016, and Helle said it’s been fun to form working relationships with the many volunteers that help make that space work. One tweak: Helle would like to form a deeper field of instructors for art classes to have a bigger roster of folks to work with.

But the Paramount expansion will garner much attention this year.

“It’s a pretty key piece for us,” she said.

The city and AACA are discussing the AACA acquiring the 121 Fourth Ave. NE Austin Park & Rec office as staff will move to office space in City Hall that was formerly occupied by Austin Utilities.

The Paramount has already used that office for handicap-accessible bathrooms during shows, and the expansion could include new bathrooms, lobby changes and dressing rooms.

“That is a key piece toward expanding and really bringing the experience of the Paramount up to what we want it to be,” Helle said.

While the AACA doesn’t have a time frame for the project right now, Helle said it’s definitely on the front burner as she and the board are eager to get going.

Down the road

The AACA is about to enhance one educational offerings and parter with I.J. Holton Intermediate School in a few months.

The AACA will welcome Z Puppets Rosenschnoz, a performance and educational group based out of Minneapolis.

They’ll come in for a residency based on STEAM education — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — with a Feb. 11 Kids’ Studio based on puppet making using techniques that approach the process from the scientific method of forming a hypothesis for how certain materials will work.

Z Puppets will also work with I.J. Holton and hold a show on March 25.

Helle said it’s great way to partner with the school and help emphasize the A — or arts — in STEAM education a bit more.

“We’re really excited about the art and science overlap,” she said. “I think it’s something that a lot of kids and parents are interested in.”

Looking to late summer, discussions will ramp up soon about entertainment and other planning for the 2017 Austin ArtWorks Festival slated for Aug. 26 and 27, those talks will center on the Saturday entertainment for the annual Dick Schindler Memorial Concert and on discussions about future locations for the festival now that the the Austin Community Recreation Center project is moving forward.

Helle said there have already been discussions and many possibilities but no decisions.