By: Nick Castillo, Sara Eunice Martinez, Kaylee Nemec
Bright dresses and choreographed dance moves captured the stage at the Austin Earth Day Festival on Saturday.
The Mueller Lake Park event highlighted multiple social dance styles, including flamenco, ballet folklórico, square dancing and tango.
Oaxaca: Arte en Movimiento, was one of the dance groups at the event. It presented a traditional Mexican dance from Oaxaca. Edgar Yepez dance instructor at Oaxaca, said the dance represents Mexican heritage.
“It’s a Mexican tradition,” Yepez said. “It’s a Mexican folklore.”
Arte en Movimento’s goal is to be a growing space for culture and art, while promoting diversity, opportunity and cultural expression. Yepez said they’ve been around for a year and have seen their program grow tremendously from four participants to 40. He credits the growth to style of dance.
“The main difference in the style of dance is Guelaguetza,” Yepez said. “No one is doing Guelaguetza in Austin. That’s the main difference between other kinds of dance.”
Oaxaca showcases the vibrant social dance culture in the city.
But Austin isn’t always as kind to professional dance. Austin’s professional dance culture has the same issues as other major cities. According to Caroline Clark, who is working on her Ph.D. about Austin dance, said the only dancers who make a salary are ballet dancers. There’s also limited space. But she added that “that’s true everywhere.”
While professional dance has its troubles in the city, Clark said the most important thing about Austin’s dance culture is its growth.
Origins of Dance Cultures
Infographic Created By: Kaylee Nemec
“The most important thing to know about Austin dance is that as Austin’s population grows, the diversity of dance forms that one can do here increases,” Clark said. “There are many kinds of dance here, from African forms to Hispanic forms to European folk forms to Asian forms. And, don’t forget the big Native American powwow that takes place every November. And, the very influential Texas dance hall tradition.”
Some of the biggest reasons for social dance’s popularity in Austin is it’s fun atmosphere. Mickey Jacobs, a senior tango instructor at Esquina Tango Cultural Society of Austin, said people attend tango classes at Esquina for the relaxed environment.
“We laugh a lot,” Jacobs said. “It’s a very open, and welcoming community. That’s really what esquina is known for and that’s what brings people back. It’s not intimidating … We make it easy to take that first step.”
Jacobs said Esquina offers a wide variety of classes. The main focus is Argentine tango, which places emphasis on the dance partners’ connection. Jacob’s performed a tango routine with fellow instructor Orazzio Loayza at Saturday’s festival, which displayed the dance’s heavy reliance on a duo’s embrace, and it additionally showed the technical side of the dance.
“It’s a couples dance first and foremost so learning to have the conversation, if you will, between the follower and the leader, but instead of a verbal conversation, it’s a conversation with your body,” Jacobs said. “It’s a very sensual dance. It’s all about responding to each other’s body movement … It all goes back to an embrace. The dance position is called the abrazo, which means embrace, and that’s where everything originates.”
Jacobs added that Esquina isn’t the only place in Austin teaching tango. She said the tango culture in Austin, much like the city’s overall dance community, is alive and well.
“There’s a very vibrant community,” Jacobs said. “There are a few 100 people, who regularly dance tango. There are definitely people around town, who are great, that serve people all around Austin … There are good teachers throughout the city, and a very vibrant active community.”
Anuradha Naimpally is the primary instructor of Austin Dance India, a dance company that has been located in Austin for more than 25 years and teaches students Bharata Natyam, a classical Indian dance style. She performs a dance position from the abstract portion of the dance called “Nritta.”
Anuradha Naimpally (left) leads her students in a warm up routine.
Anuradha Naimpally uses wooden sticks called “Tatta Kali” to form a beat and accompany dancers on their routine.
Anuradha Naimpally (left) instructs a student (right) on how to master a dance pose.
Anuradha Naimpally performs a double-hand gesture called, “Avahita,” a symbol that translates, “love.”
A student at Austin Dance Indian practices basic Bharata Natyam footwork.
Olivia Chacón is the dance instructor at Flamencura Music and Dance Studio located in Northwest Austin.
A wall at Flamencura Music and Dance Studio is filled with cultural decorations.
Shannon Francis (right) practices a dance routine with her fellow flamencas.
A linen is on display at Flamencura Music and Dance Studio that represents a Flamenco dancer’s performance attire.
Olivia Chacón practices a step in front of the mirror during her class.
Flamencura Music and Dance Studio is one of two flamenco dance locations in Austin.
Juliana Fernandez Helton displays her fan, a popular accessory that accompanies the flamenco dance.
Olivia Chacón’s Flamenco 2 class rehearses a dance at one of their weekly dance practices.
Nail heads cover the tips and heel of flamenco dancing shoes to provide a unique noise while dancers stomp.
Dr. Ana María Tekina-eirú Maynard, from Tainos Puerto Rico, founded the Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance and Cultural Center in 1997. She is the director, choreographer and playwright of the non-profit organization.
Puerto Rican artwork is on display in the Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance and Cultural Center.
Allyssa Milán (left) follows Dr. Ana María Tekina-eirú Maynard (right) in a new dance routine introduced to the class.
Dr. Ana María Tekina-eirú Maynard twists to the Puerto Rican music.
Ruty Ontiveros pauses during a dance to display her skirt.
A dancer displays the proper way to grasp a Puerto Rican dancing skirt. The hand correctly grasps the skirt loosely.
Drums are a popular, historical instrument used to accompany Puerto Rican dancing.
The beginner’s Jibaro Dance class learns how to use Palitos in a dance. Palitos are popular wooden stick instruments used to create rhythm and sound while dancing.
Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance and Cultural Center, located in Central Austin, is the only cultural center in Texas and Southwest United States associated with the Puerto Rican culture.
Long skirts are one of Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance’s main performance attire. The skirts represent the Puerto Rican culture, dating back to the 17th century.
The Puerto Rican dance group prepares a special routine for an upcoming event this summer.
A mask decoration hangs on the wall, adding character to the studio.
Dr. Ana María Tekina-eirú Maynard performs a solo routine, demonstrating a portion of the next exercise.
Photos and Cutlines By: Nick Castillo
Orazzio Loayza looks toward the crowd after finishing his tango routine on April 23.
Mickey Jacobs and Orazzio Loayza. senior instructors at EsquinaTango, perform a tango routine at Austin's Earth Day Festival.
Oaxaca: Arte en Movimiento dancers perform a traditional Mexican dance at the Austin Earth Day Festival.
Oaxaca: Arte en Movimiento dancers perform a dance called Guelaguetza, which features pineapples on April 23.
Austin Flamencura dancers wear intricately-designed dresses during their performance at the Austin Earth Day Festival.
Dancers from Austin Flamencura Dance Studio twirl during one of their three routines at the Austin Earth Day Festival.
A member of Austin's Flamencura Dance Studio performs at the Austin Earth Day Festival on April 23.
Videos filmed and produced by: Sara Eunice Martinez
By: Samantha Grasso, Kristen Hubby, Ashley Lopez and Ashlyn Warblow
History of discrimination repeats itself at Texas Relays
Story by Samantha Grasso
Texas Relays weekend is an annual three-day-long track and field competition that hosts meets for high schools, colleges, and invitational participants. Beginning in 1925, Relays has become a large community spring event that attracts 80,000 people each year, an attendance on par with events such as Mardi Gras weekend, Republic of Texas motorcycle rally, Halloween weekend, and others.
On the night of Saturday, April 2 during the 2016 Texas Relays weekend, Kyle Clark was standing alone in a 6th street bar, behind a setup of tables, wires, and a DJ turntable. Looking intently at the screen of his Macbook Pro, Clark was working the crowd as “DJ Motivate,” throwing down hip-hop and Top 40 hits as the night went on.
Getting closer to midnight, the bar became packed with people laughing, dancing along, and sipping on drinks. Despite the electric, welcoming atmosphere Clark was creating, just down the street other bars were completely dead, lights off and doors locked.
“Even though it was Texas Relays weekend, I saw people representing many different races at the place that I was DJ-ing,” Clark said. “People spent money at the bar… I think if it’s a revenue-generating opportunity, why not be open?”
Earlier that evening around 9pm, Ben Carrington, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, took the 20 minute stroll from his downtown apartment to survey the scene. He knew establishments on 6th street closed every year during Texas Relays, and since he was in town, he wanted to check the area out for himself.
Carrington’s prediction was right. As he walked along the street affectionately called “Dirty Sixth,” Carrington snapped pictures of the closed bars: The Blind Pig Pub, Shakespeare’s Pub, Dirty Dog, Palm Door on Sixth, The Four Horseman, and Iron Cactus.
Later posting his findings to Twitter, Carrington posed an observation that the bar closures were an act of racial discrimination and refusal to serve black visitors: “Texas Relays = More Black Folks in Austin = Racist Bars on 6th Street Closing for the Weekend #KeepAustinWhite?”
While Carrington’s tweets received substantial attention in hundreds of likes and retweets, major news organizations in Austin failed to report on the closures. It wasn’t until the following week that Texas Monthly writer Dan Solomon tackled the issue in a blog post that questioned why all these bars chose to close during a weekend that historically brings in $8 million in revenue each year.
Bars gave different reasons for why they were closed. For example, Palm Door is a rental venue that is not open to the public in general. Dirty Dog manager Ben Davis told Texas Monthly the bar was originally scheduled closed for floor renovations. The vendor cancelled on them last minute, but Dirty Dog remained closed since the employees had already made vacation plans for the anticipated closure.
The Blind Pig Pub claimed to be closed for South by Southwest “recovery” for the staff, while Shakespeare’s Pub offered no explanation.
Some people speculated that bars closed to avoid underage drinking fine, as the weekend attracts many young competitors and spectators. Others said they closed because Texas Relays attendees congregate on Sixth Street, but do not go inside the bars and spend money.
In reply to the Texas Monthly article, one reader who claimed to work at Iron Cactus commented that the restaurant is rented out to a private Texas Relays event each year, denying any claim of racial discrimination.
Owners of the Blind Pig Pub, Shakespeare’s Pub, and the Four Horseman did not reply to requests for comment.
“I think [those reasons for closing] are highly dubious, if not just outright lies,” Carrington said.
Where the Shift Began
Over the 91 years Relays has operated in Austin, the event has attracted a largely African-American crowd, from participating athletes, to family members, and even patrons who come to attend events that have sprouted out of the popular weekend, such as car shows and the Austin Urban Music Festival.
But despite the massive successes and positive economic impacts brought by annual events including the South by Southwest Conference, Austin City Limits Music Festival, and Republic of Texas rally, Texas Relays weekend is one of the few events that bring an onslaught of bar, mall, and highway closures.
In 2009, Highland Mall closed early during Texas Relays weekend, and the city of Austin decided to shut down downtown exit ramps on IH-35 in an effort to alleviate traffic.
In 2011, bars owned by self-proclaimed “Mayor of Sixth Street” Bob Woody The Blind Pig and Shakespeare’s Pub notoriously boarded up for the weekend. The same two bars closed for the weekend in 2012.
Brenda Burt, who has spent 28 years at the University of Texas at Austin, is an adjunct assistant professor for African and African Diaspora Studies and an advisor for the Big XII Council on Black Student Government. Burt recalls when the city’s general reaction to Texas Relays began changing, saying she remembers discussions about revenue that the weekend generates, and the closures at Highland Mall.
“I began to realize that we [the black community] was congregating at Highland Mall as well, but also, [myself] raising a teenage son [back then] he and his friends…were out at all those malls [in Round Rock],” Burt said. “I just remember a difference in the way people were beginning to be treated, and it was like, ‘C’mon Austin, what is this?’”
The seemingly racially-motivated reactions to black attendees at festivals is not isolated to Texas Relays. In early April, Austin Chronicle writer Kevin Curtin anonymously quoted a reaction by a “local businessman who co-owns multiple bars on Sixth” to the crowds at South by Southwest. “Too many n******,” the businessman replied, not knowing Curtin was a reporter. The bar owner then threatened to sue Curtin if he was quoted.
According to the Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance, five of the TBNA board members own two or more bars in Austin, Houston, and College Station. One of them is Blind Pig and Shakespeare’s owner Bob Woody, who also owns The Ranch, Buckshot, Pecan St. Café, and Micheladas. None of the other listed board members own any of the bars that Carrington found closed during this year’s Texas Relays.
Burt states that though UT Austin attracts many successful black students, Austin’s negative reaction to Texas Relays audiences is one of the many turnoffs that cause graduating students to leave the city.
While many students enact change at the university, Burt argued that the treatment of the black community in East Austin, compounded with tangible closures seen during Texas Relays and similar micro-aggressions toward black students at UT Austin, cause students to take their talents and passions for resolving social issues elsewhere.
“Austin is losing a reputation, and the black community, in particular… It doesn’t bid well,” Burt said. “You [students] are leaving because of things like this, or the community not providing cultural outlets for people of color.”
Looking toward the finish line
Carrington said he feels the general lack of reaction to the bar closures and the racial slur thrown around by the local businessman in Austin Chronicle is indicative of Austin’s general feelings toward the black population as a whole. However, he hopes he has helped to shed light on the issue.
“Part of the reason why I went was because there hadn’t been any discussion [about Austin’s attitude toward Texas Relays],” Carrington said. “If I hadn’t done those Tweets… then you wouldn’t be speaking to me right now. I think now at least there’s a chance we can organize… and put the spotlight back on an issue.”
Despite the general lack of mobilization, the city may be able to look forward to increased accountability and transparency over Texas Relays bar closures in the future. In reply to a request for comment on Mayor Steve Adler’s reaction to these closures, Jason Stanford, communications director for Adler’s office, released this statement:
“The Texas Relays are an important event on Austin’s calendar, and we love having them here and want the participants and visitors who come here for the relays to feel welcome,” Adler said. “Reports that bars are closing during the Texas Relays are troubling, and we’re looking into it.”
By Ashlyn Warblow
Upstairs patio at the Bling Pig Pub
By Ashlyn Warblow
Sixth street crowd
By Ashlyn Warblow
Bar at Shakespeare's
By Ashlyn Warblow
line at Shakespeare's
By Kristen Hubby
Bar-goers line up to get into The Blind Pig Pub for a night of fun.
By Kristen Hubby
Dirty Dog, one of the bars to close service during Texas Relays, claims they were not open due to floor renovations.
By Kristen Hubby
The Palm Door on Sixth is an event venue, rather than a bar that is open during the week.
By Kristen Hubby
People sit outside of Dirty Dog on Sixth Street, taking a break from a metal concert inside.
By Kristen Hubby
Interesting decor, games and East Side King can be found inside The Four Horsemen.
By: Nick Castillo, Sara Eunice Martinez, Kaylee Nemec
Lance Wilson has been around honey bees his entire life.
Wilson, a master beekeeper who manages hives in Llano and Travis County, was introduced to beekeeping by his grandfather when he was a child.
“So many people you’ll notice have grandparents that are involved with beekeeping and are exposed to it that way,” Wilson said. “I don’t know how you would accrue the number of years that I was exposed to it with my grandfather, but I’ve been doing it myself as an adult for about seven or eight years.”
Wilson, president of the Austin Area Beekeepers Association and area director of the Texas Beekeepers Association, said he’s noticed a decrease in his colonies’ population size – a trend that matches national statistics which show a huge decline in honey-producing bee colonies.
“There’s been a precipitant decline in the number of managed colonies,” Wilson said. “There’s all sorts of reasons for this.” He added that harmful parasites, such as mites, loss of habitat and pesticides were among the top reasons for decline in bee population.
According to the National Agriculture Statistics Services, there are 2.44 million honey-producing bee colonies in the United States, a sharp decline from the 5.9 million colonies in 1947.
While honey bees might strike fear in some or be seen as a nuisance during a day at the park, they play an important role in agriculture. Honey bees pollinate flowers and without them, many crops wouldn’t be produced. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year.
Research has been conducted because of honey bees high-value in agriculture and society. Waldan Kwong, a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University, said research has been done to find the reasons behind the decline and how to reduce the loss of bee population.
“At this stage, many scientists are trying to understand the causes and scale of the problem – very basic research – such that in the future, better policies can be implemented at the regulatory level,” Kwong said in an email. “For my own research, I am looking at the bacteria that live in association with [honey and bumble] bees.”
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are aiding in bee research. Integrative biology professor Nancy Moran leads a bee research lab in the department of biosciences. Moran and her team examine bacteria in bees and how it interacts with the them.
“These bacteria are not pathogenic, but are rather commensals and mutualists that are part of the natural social environment of these insects,” said Kwong, who is also a postdoctoral fellow in Moran’s lab. He added that the bacteria work with the honey bees to help fight off harmful pathogens, and help with the bee’s digestive system.
Moran’s lab has 10 bee colonies on top of the J.T. Patterson Labs Building. These honey bees are used in her lab research. The hope is to see how these bacteria can protect them from negative exposure to pathogens, which would reduce the population decline.
“There’s the hope that [the bacteria in bees] will be helpful with factors that affect the health [of bees],” Moran said. “It’s been shown that bacteria can protect bees.”
While there is a concern about honey bees rapid population decrease, Moran said the concerns should be lessened.
“It’s not like honey bees are going to go extinct,” Moran said. “There are a lot of honey bees.”
Despite his concerns about the bee population, Wilson said there is work being done to halt the decline.
“The good thing is that there are various chemical treatments that are biopesticide or are organic in nature that means we’re finding better ways to treat honey bees and keep mites under control that doesn’t negatively impact the colonies,” Wilson said.
Photos By: Kaylee Nemec
A worker (female) honey bee gathers pollen and nectar from an Indian Hawthorn bush in Central Austin to take back to its hive for food and to make honey.
Bee Friendly Austin is a Certified Naturally Grown Apiary located in Southwest Austin. Bluebonnets and honey bee signs greet visitors as they enter the honey farm.
A bee colony migrates to a nearby tree to follow its queen. The colony contains 10 thousand to 12 thousand honey bees.
Joel (left), volunteer at Bee Friendly Austin, and two beekeepers (right) watch Tanya Phillips (second from left), owner of Bee Friendly Austin, as she prepares a temporary home for a bee colony.
Honeycomb, a natural substance made by honey bees, can be found in beehives and is used for storing honey.
Tanya Phillips explains the process of honey bees entering and exiting the hive.
A honey bee empties nectar into honeycomb.
Tanya Phillips attaches honeycomb to a fixed-frame that will hang down inside the beehive.
A honey bee crossing sign is on display at the entrance of Bee Friendly Austin. The honey bee farm has a mix of Italians, Buckfast and Hygenic honey bees, although European and Western honey bees are the more popular species in the United States.
Tanya Phillips uses a bee smoker to chase the remaining colony out of the tree and into their new home.
The bee smoker burns natural wood chips and burlap. The smoke calms the honey bees, making them less aggressive, lightly burning their eyes and chasing them into their new home.
Producing honey is one of the most popular things honey bees are known for.
Honey bees swarm through the air as Chuck Reburn (left) and Tanya Phillips (right) transfer them to different beehives in hopes of spotting the queen bee.
Tanya Phillips points to a honey bee on a fixed-frame that carries pollen on its pollen baskets, located on its hind legs.
A honey bee yard sign, located at Bee Friendly Austin, address the honey bee population problem by warning visitors not to disturb the honey bees on the honey farm.
Tanya Phillips (left) and Joel (right) wait to see which hive the most honey bees fly into. This determines where the queen bee can be found.
While using an observation hive, beekeepers can open a small window and look through glass to check what honey bees are doing and how much honey they have produced.
Bee Friendly Austin offers beekeeping classes on a regular basis for those who want to learn about honey bees, gain hands-on experience with the insects or learn what it takes to have their own apiary (bee yard).
Tanya Phillips opens the lid to the honey bee hive to adjust the honeycomb inside.
Chuck Reburn, owner of Bee Friendly Austin, makes all beehives and accessories by hand.
Six beehives are placed near each other in a secluded area on the honey bee farm to stay isolated from distractions.
Videos filmed and produced by: Sara Eunice Martinez
Story package by Taylor Villarreal, Trisha Zyrowski, and Samantha Grasso
Shot by Taylor Villarreal
Edited by Samantha Grasso
Austin Art Community Saves “Free Art Friday” From Extinction
Story by Trisha Zyrowski
When you walk into Nicole Clark’s living room, you’ll see a dozen pieces of art that she didn’t pay for. No, Clark isn’t a high-class art thief. However, she is an artist and active participant in Austin’s weekly event Free Art Friday.
During Free Art Friday, local artists make small pieces of art, like paintings and cross-stitching, and hide them in various spots around Austin on Fridays.
After taking a photo of their art and its hiding space, the artist uploads the photo to their Instagram account with the hashtag #ATXFreeArtFriday. Following the hashtag, Austinites can see what art is being hidden, and can follow clues as to where they can find it by looking at the Instagram photos. While many people may show up to the “drop” site to claim these art pieces, only one is the victor.
Free Art Friday hiding spots where artists commonly “drop” off art
Infographic by Trisha Zyrowski
While Free Art Friday allows Austinites to get in on some free artwork, the weekly event also gives artists the chance to share their original work with their Instagram followers and connect with other artists. Christine Muñoz, a Los Angeles expat, is an artist who moved to Austin in January.
Though only having lived in Austin for three months, Muñoz says people in the art community are much nicer than in Los Angeles, and that Free Art Friday has already allowed her to get connected within the local art scene.
“I feel like in LA people are super focused, very greedy, like, ‘It’s my success, I don’t want to share it,’” but Muñoz recalls with appreciation that Austin artists took her “under their wings,” immediately.
“I’m going to call Austin home for awhile,” Muñoz says.
Free Art Friday in Austin was started around two years ago by SprATX, a collective group of local street artists who “fill empty spaces with positive messages and beautiful art,” according to their website.
The concept of Free Art Friday is not unique to Austin—Atlanta, Georgia’s thriving scene began their Free Art Fridays in March 2013, according to their Facebook page.
While Austin’s branch of the weekly event quickly expanded under SprATX’s leadership, participation in Free Art Friday began to see a swift decline from both artists and art finders about a year ago.
Nicole Clark, who is also a manager for Austin’s Free Art Friday Instagram account, said the decline was most evident when SprATX became more busy and was no longer able to promote Free Art Friday on their own Instagram account.
Clark also says that before the weekly event’s decline, artists used to create larger pieces of art, eventually putting in large amounts of time, energy, and money (from art supplies) into a piece to just be given to someone for free. When that no longer became sustainable to full-time artists, they began hiding smaller art pieces and trinkets.
Unfortunately, the art finding community wasn’t interested in spending their time to find such small pieces, Clark says.
Together, these two variables created an unsustainable climate for Free Art Friday, further creating disconnect in the local art community.
Clark says she felt discouraged seeing so little participation in Free Art Friday, but she wouldn’t let this be the end of the new Austin tradition. Six weeks ago, Clark and two other local artists took it upon themselves to reboot the weekly event, the trio becoming the main organizers while still housing the project under SprATX.
Already, their new Instagram account to promote and encourage Free Art Friday between artists and art fans alike has amassed over 1,100 followers.
“People want to do it and they’re really into it, it’s just a matter of retraining expectations and retraining the culture,” Clark says.
“That kind of stuff makes us feel like this is why we’re doing it, this is why it’s so important to us, because those kids see that street art isn’t a bad thing.” – Nicole Clark
Instagram user and artist @THIS_BIRD_ has nearly 1,200 followers, his design of his trade being simple designs of birds. Clark refers to this artist as the “MVP” of their reboot: “So many people recognize his work.”
Many of his followers are families with kids who like to try and recreate his colorful, playful birds. His followers are always on the lookout for his canvases throughout the city, and take pictures with them once they’re found.
“That kind of stuff makes us feel like this is why we’re doing it, this is why it’s so important to us, because those kids see that street art isn’t a bad thing,” Clark says. “Their parents show them that it doesn’t mean you’re a thug or a gangster or whatever, just because you paint on an abandoned building.”
Many local artists believe Free Art Friday has given them a chance to share positivity, contribute to their community and connect with their supporters.
“All the time and dedication I’m putting into this, all the emotion, all the feeling, it’s gonna be in someone else’s hands. But being able to let it go, that’s awesome. That’s dedication,” Muñoz says. “Those are things I aspire to do, like being able to get to that point in life [where art is] just all growth. It’s not easy to come by that stuff.”
When local artists appear negative to the idea of giving away their art for free, Clark says she tries to persuade them by discussing the potential impact an artist could have in connecting with other local artists and art fans through Free Art Friday.
When an artist drops a popular piece of work, many people will rush to that location “in a matter of minutes,” Clark says. “The cool thing is bringing everyone together, not just the artists… Why would you wanna cut yourself off from those experiences?”
Looking toward the future, Austin’s Free Art Friday’s reboot team is inspired by Atlanta’s Thankful Thursday event. As a way to show appreciation for local artists, the Atlanta community hides art supplies for local artists on Thursdays—paints, brushes, pastels, and other tools that aren’t easy to come by as a full-time artist. Clark hopes to get the Austin program started soon.
“Only Austin can do it the way Austin does it,” Muñoz says.
By: Vanessa Pulido, Alex Wilts, Michael Baez, and Jessica Stovall
Lisa Villanyi, 46, may need to go out for Thanksgiving dinner next year. The small dining space in the 399 square-foot home she’s thinking about buying may not be enough room to cook a full feast – and fit her entire family.
Villanyi is soon to be part of the one percent of homebuyers that have chosen to purchase a house of less than 1,000 square feet. As apartment rent costs rise and consumers become more environmentally conscious, the tiny house movement has grown in certain U.S. cities, including Austin.
“I think everyone still wants a piece of the American dream, and small houses are sustainable and affordable,” said Shay Reynolds, owner of Buy A Small House in Austin.
On Nov. 19, the Austin City Council even voted to ease the rules restricting the construction of backyard cottages, or additional add-on properties to larger homes, which often serve as housing for aging relatives.
“When someone comes in and they’ve decided they want to buy a small house, they choose between 15 to 18 different floor plans,” Reynolds said. He said customers are then able to also select the type of flooring and roof, as well as paint colors.
“Once it’s finished being built, we deliver it, lock it, level it, tie it down and hook it up to the utilities and it’s a fully functional house,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said people tend to either purchase or lease land, or find an RV park to place their new $45,000 tiny home. He also said the 399 square-foot houses are not subject to sales or property taxes.
Villanyi, who currently resides in Denver, Colorado, said she is currently struggling to find property in Austin to put her house, as the area has recently become flooded with new housing and construction developments. She said she currently pays $1,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.
“You’re constantly paying rent every month and never getting ahead,” Villanyi said. “I figured if I could pay for this in cash, then I’d have it for my own.”
Reynolds said “business is booming,” but it is difficult to determine the actual impact the tiny house movement is having on Austin since other forms of housing remain popular.
Residential Strategies Inc., a Dallas-based market research company, reported in January 2015 the new home inventory – including model homes, homes under construction and finished vacant homes – was 7,279 at the end of 2014. This was a 46-unit increase from 2013. Several new apartment complexes are also under construction to keep up with the housing demand of the city’s booming population.
But Villanyi has other things to think about, especially if she will be able to host her family that lives in Colorado for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“I haven’t even thought about holidays,” Villanyi said. “It’s small, but it’s plenty big for me.”
By: Julia Farrell, Taylor Wiseman, Mariana Muños, Michelle Sanchez
History of Cat Cafés
Blue Cat Café is on a mission to provide Austin with coffee and cats. Although this is the first of its kind to open in Texas, cat cafes are becoming more popular across the nation. California, New York, and Pennsylvania are just a few of the states that have picked up on the trend in the past year. The idea of a “cat café” established the concept in Japan nearly 17 years ago.
For a light fee, customers can enjoy a meal while playing with some feline friends. The café houses a maximum of 25 cats at a time, all of which are shipped directly from the Austin Humane Society. That means that for each 25 cats housed by the café, 25 cages are opened up at AHS. Since its opening in July, the café continues to provide food and shelter for stray kittens.
“Most of the cats we get have never had a real home,” says Rebecca Gray, co-founder of the Blue Cat Café. “This is their first real glimpse at home life until they are adopted by a family.”
A typical day at the café begins at 7:00 a.m. The kittens are all lined up at the door, awaiting the arrival of humans. After being fed, the owners do a cat count every morning to ensure that none are sick, as a disease within the colony can spread quickly. By 9 a.m. customers are lined up at the door. Due to health policies, all of the food is prepared in a food truck outside of the café. The food is then brought inside, where customers can eat and drink coffee in the company of the cats.
Blue Cat Café is also an adoption agency. Not only can you play with the kittens, but you can also take one home. The adoption process is simple: just pick your kitty and pay a $50 fee, which covers the cost of food, toys, and a bed for your new pet. Adoption opens up space for new cats to be sheltered at the café, which in turn helps reduce the stray cat population in Austin.
“We’ve been averaging over an adoption a day,” says co-owner of Blue Cat Café Jacques Casimir.
“We’ve had four yesterday, so we’d be on pace at this point for more than 400 adoptions in a year.”
Austin’s feral cat population has spiked significantly in the past decade. Places like the Blue Cat Café help reduce the stray cat population by taking in kittens and caring for them until they are adopted. Casimir says that they receive cats from AHS on a daily basis, except for weekends.
AHS does not keep a census of the stray cat population in Austin due to the overwhelmingly large number. Mike Di Tullio, AHS’ feral cat program supervisor, says that the growing population is a large problem for the city. In 2007, the program began a free Tap-Neuter-Return program in an attempt to control the feral cat population. It involves volunteers locating stray cats and bringing them to the clinic so that they can be fixed. This way, when they are returned to the streets, they are not able to reproduce at such a quick rate. This is yet another way that the city is trying to curb the number of cats on the streets.
James Forrest started frequenting the Hole in the Wall as a UT student 20 years ago.
He sat on a red diner barstool with a beer in hand. A giant hole in the red plastic peeked out from underneath him. Randy Echels has been going to the Hole in the Wall since it opened in 1974. It has proven to be a place of cheap beer and live music for 41 years. Hole in the Wall, or the Hole to its regulars, is now in danger of closing when its lease expires at the end of this year. Rising rent rates have threatened the future of yet another Austin music venue.
Austin’s booming real estate market has led to increased land values, and has increased rent for music venues. Encor Realty group, which manages the building of the Hole in the Wall on Guadalupe Street, implied in earlier reports that they had kept rent down as long as possible.
Dive bars such as the Hole have struggled to keep up with rising rents, yet owner Will Tanner is hopeful that an agreement can be reached. Advocacy group Austin Music People are involved in mediating the negotiations between Tanner and Scott Friedman, the representative from Encor. Negotiations have improved gradually, according to AMP Director, Jennifer Houlihan.
“We are still working with the Hole in the Wall and I spoke with the owner Will Tanner yesterday. The lines of communication are open. He is cautiously optimistic that they can come to an agreement and Hole in the Wall can stay where they are for a little bit longer,” said Houlihan.
UT Professor, Wanda Cash, complicated negotiations by starting a well-intentioned petition to designate the Hole as an historic venue. However, because the building was not 50 years old, this only complicated negotiations with the owner.
“We knew that wasn’t going to fly…not because it didn’t deserve it, we just know how that commission works and what Will was saying was that it was causing him difficulties when negotiating with the landlord, because it was putting the landlord into a corner,” said Houlihan.
Although the petition closed, it shows just how much the Hole in the Wall means to the community. Because of its proximity to UT, It has become a popular drinking spot for grad students and professors. Cash, who has been going to the Hole since she was a grad student in the late 70’s, is concerned that the drag is losing its character.
“My concern was that one day we’re going to walk on Guadalupe Street and it’s going to be a chain store – and the identity of the Drag won’t be there anyway and you might as well be anywhere in the United States,” said Cash.
Connection to the Journalism School
Wanda Cash, Associate Director
Tom Johnson, Professor
Rusty Todd, Professor
Hope is not lost for the Hole in the Wall. Houlihan believes that an agreement can be reached.
“The agreement would probably include some sort of investment from the club owners in the physical space; keeping it up, maybe repainting the bathroom…to keep the property value up. So when they do finish their lease it’s in good condition,” said Houlihan.
Tom Johnson, a Professor in the School of Journalism, has tried to reestablish the Hole as the journalism bar by inviting colleagues and students to go.
“It just feels to me like an Austin bar. It connects me to when Austin was starting to develop the idea of “being weird.” It still has that hippie vibe – that old Austin vibe. It’s important to keep those places alive because we’ve lost so many others, like the Armadillo …that are really music icons that just shut down,” said Johnson.
Successful artists like Townes Van Zandt, Spoon, Shakey Graves, and Bob Schneider have all jump-started their careers performing at the Hole. Austin Attorney and UT alum, James Forrest, remembers one of their very first live performances.
“Townes Van Zandt…was an Austin music legend. He was bringing his child to this bar and would sing. People would take care of him. Just being part of something original and something authentic that is Austin…. it is probably what’s most precious to me,” said Forrest.
Forrest has been going to the Hole in the Wall for over 20 years and even displays his own artwork next to the music wall of fame.
“For what Austin is, it is one of the last remaining places where original Austin art are welcomed and celebrated. Come by, have a beer, have a dance, have some memories – keep the tradition going,” said Forrest.
Increased rent on Guadalupe, and other Austin music venues, has put pressure on the local music scene as a whole, but Houlihan still believes that we can find a balance between landlords and local music businesses.
“There’s a sweet spot that I think we can find, where we are keeping Austin’s creative spirit, we’re keeping Austin weird, we’re keeping our city affordable enough for our creatives to stay here, but we’re also leaving room for that prosperity for everyone, and I think it’s absolutely possible,” said Houlihan.
By: Alex Wilts, Michael Baez, Jessica Stovall, Vanessa Pulido
Standing in front of a chalkboard listing more than 15 types of pie, Ignacio Pineda, an employee at the Texas Pie Company in Kyle, Texas, takes the orders of regular and new customers with ease.
Located less than a block from City Hall, the bakery is one of the last places in Kyle that bears any resemblance to the small town where he grew up, Pineda said.
The downtown area of Kyle is small and dominated by small businesses, city hall, and the train tracks that run through the town.
“This entire street here was Kyle before they started adding the stores and shops and what-not,” Pineda said. “The great Kyle from the past is gone. What we have now is the industrial Kyle.”
Over the last 10 plus years the city of Kyle, Texas has grown over 375%. Source: U.S. Census Bureau
From 1998 to 2013, Kyle’s population grew 772 percent – from 3,641 to 31,760 –according to the U.S. Census Bureau, transforming the rural area 20 miles south of Austin into a city that is nowadays more akin to a suburb than a small Texas town.
“I remember when I came here before we moved here,” said Mayor Todd Webster, who moved to Kyle with his family in 1998. “I drove around looking at the town – there were chickens running around.”
Webster said one of the primary drivers of Kyle’s growth was the inflation of housing prices in nearby cities such as Austin. Once city rents began to soar during the late 1990s, Austinites and people from other places like California began making their way to Kyle looking for an affordable place to live.
“That’s why I moved here,” Webster said. “I had two kids, and I was delivering pizzas. This was before I went to law school. It provided an opportunity for me to have a nice home for me to raise my children.”
But according to Webster, growth is not without growing pains.
One of the first water towers built in Kyle,Texas. Due to its massive growth in recent years Kyle had some struggles with its water supply.
As Kyle’s population increased, Webster said infrastructure problems began to develop, first manifesting with the water system.
“We had a big water shortage here,” Webster said. “My personal experience literally was not having water come out of the faucet. Water would spit like there was air in the lines.”
While city government worked to diversify the water supply, which had primarily consisted of only groundwater, other issues began to be made apparent, including residents’ lack of access to a close hospital. The closest emergency care unit was located 20 miles away in Austin.
“I had an emergency with my oldest when she was five, and I had to rush her to the hospital, and it was the longest drive of my life,” Webster said. “I got her in the car and drove 100 mph to Austin to get her to the hospital.”
With the influx of people, demand for health services became more widespread, resulting in the construction of Seton Medical Center Hays on Kyle Parkway.
Along with a new hospital, a new HEB was also built after the town’s local grocery store – the Bon-Ton – burnt down in the early 2000s.
“I think that was the biggest change,” Pineda said. “The Bon-Ton had been the town grocery for forever. My uncles worked there. My sister worked there. I worked there for a summer. That was a family-owned establishment, and it served so many people for so many years. You didn’t need Wal-Mart.”
As the construction of chain restaurants in Kyle began to greatly outpace that of local enterprises, Gordon Wybo, president of Sustainacycle’s Sustainable Living Center, said he started Sustainaclycle to help residents with their nutrition and to support small businesses.
“We can get all of the chains – as you can see we’ve got enough restaurants for two or three cities – but the demographic is supporting them,” Wybo said. “On the flip side of the coin, with small businesses, especially niche businesses like mine, the demographic is also supporting that too.”
Even though Kyle’s population increase has been good for business, Pineda said he still misses the small town atmosphere.
“I’m old-fashioned, so I like the smaller things,” Pineda said. “But it’s nice seeing a whole bunch of people from out-of-state bringing what they can to this town.”
By Kyle Cavazos, Estefanía de León, Danny Goodwin, & Danielle Vabner
In front of the main tower at the University of Texas, there is an empty space where a statue of Jefferson Davis once stood. Appearing indifferent toward its absence, students walk by on their way to class, cell phones in hand.
The university made the controversial decision to remove the statue after South Carolina took down its own Confederate flag. Some disagree with its relocation, arguing that the statue is simply part of the school’s history, and that to remove it from its original location is to deny its history and its ties to the Confederacy. Others, however, are relieved that the statue is no longer on display, and feel that the time has come to bid adieu to the prejudiced past it is associated with.
“I think that’s kind of what the university allows for in this space is for these kind of conversions and controversies,” said Dr. Simone Browne, an Associate Professor in African and African Diaspora Studies. “But in the end, at least for me, the right thing was done, and for other people they want that to remain so that we can understand these histories.”
The history of the university and its landmarks goes deeper than Jefferson Davis. There are still other figures on campus that remain at the center of this debate, figures who have had an influence on the university for years. One example is George Littlefield, who was a donor to the university and had ties to the Confederacy.
“He established a Littlefield Fund for Southern History, which would basically archive a history that was a celebration of the Confederacy,” Browne said. “[He] gifted not only this archive, but also gifted the money to create what we have as the six-pack…and so his name is still continually on the campus.”
Though Browne said that she agrees with the removal of the statue, she does not believe that awareness of the university’s history and keeping these landmarks up for all to see have to be mutually exclusive.
“[We need to understand] the university, its architecture, and its formation as a…memorialization to the Confederacy as an enterprise,” Browne said. “That’s what it was about. That’s why basically the, the university’s back is facing the north, why we’re facing the Capitol, why we have everything around that fountain.”
Dr. Leonard Moore is an example of a UT faculty member who feels that the statues and other landmarks originating from can serve as learning tools for students, and that they should not be taken down.
“I’m a historian, so other people may see a Confederate statue as problematic. I value them for their historical value, you know what I mean?” Moore said. “I like to use things like that as a teachable moment. I wish they had left them up, because I think it reminds people of the history of this place.”
Moore also said that he does not believe that the statues have a profound effect on minority students at UT. He said that in his experience, students are looking to get more support from the UT community.
“They would’ve probably said some more scholarships, some more outreach efforts, some more outreach programs out of the College of Business and the College of Engineering,” he said. “And so the fear was, when they put the statues down, now we can’t get anything else.”
“I had all the customers from Martindale,” said Vivian with a soft, nostalgic smile. Now, she says, “my customers are without a beauty shop.”
And Vivian–who has lived at the same address for more than 50 years and watched all of her grandchildren grow up there– is now without a home.
Approximately 50 houses within Martindale city limits were struck by the flood, many of which were more than 50 percent destroyed.
A map of Martindale and the surrounding areas.
Vivian had been through this before, back in 1998. Heavy rains caused the San Marcos River to rise ruthlessly, and her house and hair shop stood in its way.
She not only remembers the great expense it was to repair and rebuild, but also how she was able to fix it and make it “really nice.”
“This flood,” however, “was different,” she said.
Unlike in ‘98, when the river water caused most of the damage directly, the destruction of her home in the 2015 floods resulted almost entirely from her nephew’s camping trailer, which was parked in the backyard when the water rose. The strength of the current was so immense, that it swiftly swept up the trailer and smashed it through the wall of Vivian’s back room, knocking it out completely.
“I think if that trailer hadn’t hit it, the house would have been okay,” she said. “The rest of the house was fine.”
Vivian–now 80 years old–knows well the challenges that lie ahead, but she believes they may just be too much to take on this time around.
“This time, I wasn’t sure I wanted to fix it again because it was too much of an expense,” she said. “And, now, since we have to raise the houses up, I can’t fix my shop.”
It had been just two weeks before the floods began when Mayor Randy Bunker was sworn into office.
Although a former floodplain administrator for the city, those close to the mayor said, still, “It wasn’t something he was prepared for.”
Mayor Randy Bunker stands out front of Martindale City Hall (Austin American-Statesman).
Mayor Bunker was likely also unprepared for the reaction he would receive from city council back in July, when he proposed the use of emergency funds to waive fees for affected families needing residential building permits, which are required to obtain before rebuilding.
In an interview with KXAN, Mayor Bunker said these permit fees are particularly expensive in Martindale and, in some cases, exceed three times what someone would pay for the same permit in San Marcos, a city that has stepped up to help its flood victims by waiving the permit fees.
“We have to raise the houses ourselves because we are in the flood zone,” said Vivian. “That costs money having to tear the house down and build it back up– and I’m sure it has to come out of our pocket.”
Unsure it could absorb the cost any better, Martindale City Council voted against the mayor’s proposition and, instead, is now depending on the help of FEMA. If the agency does not help out, however, council says it will review on a case-by-case basis.
Hope Across the River
Tanya Thornhill just wanted to help.
Not even a resident of Martindale (living across the San Marcos River in Guadalupe County), she went out early the morning following the flood–after being tired, worried and up all night–to see if everyone was okay, if there was anything she could do.
Flash forward two months later, and Tanya is still working tirelessly to help others in need– without much help of her own.
Almost single-handedly, she must lead the restoration efforts because there is no organized reception center, such as in Wimberley or San Marcos.
She also takes care of the areas outside Martindale city limits.
“They’re not getting a whole lot of representation, so they’re kind of out on their own,” she said.
“I’ve been going out there, going door to door, bringing sandwiches.” She says she also takes flyers with resources and information, such as where to access fresh water or find financial assistance.
“There’s so much to learn as far as working with the government, like the FEMA organization,” said Tanya.
“I’m still going door to door because some people haven’t even filed or applied yet with FEMA,” she said. They don’t understand that they should, that there’s help for them.”
Still, she says that even folks that do get money from FEMA don’t receive enough. Nevertheless, she encourages flood victims to file, as the agency can help the city record the data it needs to better prepare for natural disasters in the future.
Glimmers in the Water
Despite the turbulent two-month journey, Tanya says “things are looking up–” even outside of Martindale.
“We have been breaking records here in terms of the amount of people that have been visiting,” said Jenn Menge, a ranger for Texas Parks and Wildlife. “The water has been so much higher, so we’ve seen a lot more people here for swimming and for fishing.”
The park has even noted a few fish species unseen for some time that likely made their way down in higher flood waters.
“We’re really excited when we see people, especially families and young people, come out to enjoy their Texas state park,” she said. “That means a lot for the health and the future of Texas state parks.”
And the good news doesn’t stop there.
A pond of catfish swarm during feeding time at A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery.
The heavy rains and flooding in May and June not only ended the drought and raised both lakes and reservoirs to extraordinary levels, but also provided TPWD freshwater fish hatcheries with a better-than-expected production year, allowing them to stock more lakes and the number of fish in them.
Because reservoir levels have remained low for several years, vegetation grew across the dry lake bottom. When levels rise, however, the flooded vegetation gives small fish a place to hide from predators and, as it decays, releases essential nutrients into the lake–ultimately jumpstarting the food chain.
With the rising water levels benefiting all species of fish, fishing– a $90 billion industry– is expected to see significant improvement in the coming years, as predator species like bass, striped bass and hybrid bass grow quickly with plenty to eat.
Picking Up the Pieces
With little to no media attention, Tanya says there are still countless people, including her own colleagues, who remain unaware Martindale was ever flooded. Combining this with a recent drop-off of volunteers can be, in one word: “disheartening.”
But only a little, she said.
Despite their infrequencies, she nevertheless receives donations that she believes come “from heaven above.” For instance, a group in Pleasanton, Texas recently held a fundraiser and unexpectedly called Tanya asking the square footage of one of her adopted family’s houses. A few days later, the family had all the materials they needed and could begin rebuilding.
Another example is Mattress Firm, which currently offers a $700 voucher to anyone affected by the flood. Residents can sign up for the program through Aug. 31, and vouchers will be redeemable through Dec. 31.
“Everyone lost their mattress, everyone lost their water heater, everyone lost things that you need everyday,” Tanya said.
Because all contractors in the area are “booked to their eyeballs” and unable to offer any more help until late September, residents of Martindale are still in need of labor.
“We’re relying on family or friends or anybody who knows anything about painting or hanging a light bulb,” she said. “We desperately need materials and skilled labor.”
As for Vivian’s home and beauty shop, she says, “We might have to use it as a shed, or maybe a little summer house where the kids can come and stay a couple days.”
Vivian is sure about one thing, though:
“All my grandkids grew up here, so I want to be here,” she said strongly with a smile as resilient as the river.
Despite the destruction of her home and hair salon, Vivian Gonzalez, 80, manages to persevere with a smile and positive sense of humor.
Vivian saved each and every one of her 11 cats from drowning by placing them in cages and carrying them to safety.
Because her cats still seem to call this place 'home,' Vivian walks just a few houses down to ensure they have fresh food, cold water and lots of love.
Contrary to the rest of the house, the tile floor in Vivian's house sits atop slabs of cement, which kept it intact it "like nothing happened to it," she said.
Despite burying most of the vegetation planted in Vivian's front yard, new life manages to break through the layers upon layers of riverbed soil deposited on her property, and others', during the flood.
The back of Vivian's neighbor's house faces the San Marcos River, flowing just a few hundred feet away.
A look inside the home of Vivian's neighbor, whose structure was dramatically damaged by the Memorial Day floods.
Lying along the ledge of the San Marcos River is a once-towering tree forced to fall from the flood.