Category: Local Arts

Austin Yogis Unite at the Wanderlust Yoga Festival

By Silvana Di Ravenna, Emma Ledford and Andrew Masi

If you’re looking to unwind after a long and stressful week, going to a 4-day-long festival in the heart of downtown Austin probably isn’t at the top on your list – but you might rethink that after hearing about Wanderlust.

From Nov. 6-9, the Wanderlust Yoga Festival brought Austin yogis to 4th Street and Brazos for four days of diverse yoga classes, music, art and community. Beginner, intermediate and expert yogis alike found classes that fostered physical, mental and spiritual growth and relaxation in a healthy and welcoming environment.


A group of attendees at the Wanderlust Yoga Festival take part in a class. Festival activities were spread out over four days. Photo by Andrew Masi.


Zoe Mantarakis shows off one of her favorite yoga positions. Mantarakis led several different classes at the festival. Photo by Andrew Masi.

Zoe Mantarakis has been teaching yoga in Austin for 14 years. She led five very different classes at Wanderlust Austin this year, embodying the wide spectrum of yoga the festival offered.

She started with a self-empowerment class on Friday morning called “Nectar Within” and a meditative class called “Om Shanti Bliss-out.” Later that evening, she switched gears and led “Boom Boom Pow Black Light,” a collaboration with musician DJ Manny that she called a “party on your yoga mat.” She also taught a class on Saturday on her style of yoga rooted in ancient Sanskrit philosophy, “Yoga Illumined,” and a class on Sunday about self-discipline called “Tapas: Fire Within.”

Though her classes were very different from each other, they were “all on the same spectrum,” Mantarakis said, because they focused on creating community.

“Yoga is about bringing a community together and creating a tribe. So there’s many ways to accomplish that, and all of those ways are yoga,” she said. “So if it’s just sitting still and meditating, that’s yoga. If it’s having a party where we’re conscious and we’re all coming together, that’s yoga.”

Newcomers and expert yogis alike found Wanderlust classes that suited their needs. Festivalgoer Stephan Mazerand has been practicing yoga for about three months. His first love is running, and he discovered yoga as a way to help him stretch better.

Though he’s still a beginner, he was able to find classes at the festival that worked for him and helped him grow.

“The problem is I’m a runner, so I can’t straighten out properly,” Mazerand said. “There’s a bunch of poses. I’m not very good at them, and so the instructor was helping me out a little bit, you know.”

In an effort to get festivalgoers out of their comfort zone, Austin yoga teacher Dani Whitehead hosted an open-to-everyone acroyoga “jam” session. She hoped to get people to try acroyoga for the first time, but also provide an opportunity for advanced yogis to “come out and show off.”

“Acroyoga is kind of like dancing. There’s ballroom, there’s hip-hop, there’s contemporary, there’s ballet,” she said. “It can be for fun, it can be for performance, it can be as a workout, it can be to make friends. You can do anything you want.”


Dani Whitehead demonstrates her strength in a partnered acroyoga session. Whitehead teaches acrobatic partner yoga in Austin, and feats like this draw students to her classes. Photo by Andrew Masi.

Whitehead has been practicing acroyoga for about three years. Though it is more vigorous than traditional yoga, she hopes to get more people into it and grow the community.


Everyone was invited to participate in the acroyoga play session, as long as they did so safely. Photo by Andrew Masi.

“It is such an amazing practice to do with your friend, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your children – and I am all about supporting that coming together and bringing people in, but also staying safe and taking care of each other,” Whitehead said.

Austin yogi Elizabeth Davis led hiking classes at Wanderlust to help people to “take their Austin outside,” expand their consciousness and find the magic in every moment. She urged her hikers to do self-inquiry work and have “authentic conversations” about their negative or shameful thoughts so that they could move past them and appreciate the present.

“Every moment is truly a gift. It’s a gift that we’re even together as human beings,” she said. “I’m so grateful to be a part of this amazing experience and community. It just reaffirms why I’m in the yoga community and why I do what I do. And I just couldn’t be more happy.”

Austin’s festival is just one of the many annual Wanderlust Yoga Festivals held across the U.S. and around the globe, including Canada and Australia. The festivals help grow and connect the many yoga communities across the world, Mantarakis said.

“To me Wanderlust Festival is all about tribe. And that’s essentially what it is. It’s a traveling group of yogis that grows at each spot and cultivates community within a certain location but then also across boundaries,” she said. “Once we’re connected, we’re a tribe. Across state lines, across country lines.”

Wanderlust Yoga Festivals Across the World (map created by Emma Ledford)
Wanderlust Yoga Festivals are held in multiple locations across the U.S. (including Hawaii), Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Click here for the schedule.

Austin Celebrates Life and Death Through Viva La Vida Fest

A papier-mâché skeleton adorned in paper marigolds looms over festival attendees at the Viva la Vida festival on October 18th. Photo by Olivia Starich.

A papier-mâché skeleton adorned in paper marigolds looms over festival attendees at the Viva la Vida festival on October 18th. Photo by Olivia Starich.

By Jane Claire Hervey, Olivia Starich, Elizabeth Williams and Alex Vickery

In a sea of papier-mâché, face paint and elaborate costumes, Austin’s 31st annual Viva la Vida festival kicked off the city’s series of Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican holiday during which people remember and honor loved ones who have died. Because of Texas’ close proximity to the Mexican border and the state’s influx of Mexican immigrants, the holiday has grown to reach communities far beyond its origins.

Austin’s Day of the Dead events typically begin in mid-October (to accommodate the city’s hectic event schedule) and extend into November. Sylvia Orozco, the executive director of the Mexic-Arte Museum and one of Viva La Vida Fest’s founders, said that Austin’s Dia de los Muertos events offer a cultural interpretation of the holiday.

“It was actually a very traditional, authentic event, and I kind of just fell in love with it,” Orozco said.“I thought it was beautiful. So when we came back to Austin [from Mexico City], and we wanted to start a cultural organization, that was the first event that we organized to do.”

Viva La Vida Fest, which began in 1984, begins with a procession through downtown that includes dancers in paper maché masks, 10-foot-tall puppets and parade-goers in full skeletal makeup. The parade honors a special theme or component each year. This year’s theme paid tribute to deceased soccer players in honor of the World Cup. Orozco said the procession themes give the festival a unique Austin flavor.

“Because of the creativeness of the city and people liking parades and processions and kind of dressing up, I think it becomes extra special,” Orozco said. “Each year, we have a special component, so we actually contribute to the creativeness of the Austin celebration with the procession.”

Austin Celebrates Dia de los Muertos from Alex Vickery on Vimeo.

Although the holiday is often mistaken for Halloween by those unfamiliar with its background, the festival is much more than music and skeleton costumes. At Viva La Vida Fest, festival attendees celebrate those who have died and the idea that death is just another phase of life. Lynette Lor, a festival attendee, said she has celebrated Dia de los Muertos in Austin since her childhood.

“Dia de los Muertos means, to me, remembering those who have passed away and keeping their spirit here with us today,” Lor said.

Orozco said that the Mexic-Arte Museum hosted its first Viva la Vida Fest as a way to bring the beauty of Dia de los Muertos to the city. In addition to the festival and the procession, the Mexic-Arte Museum hosted an exhibit of eight altars this year, which were created by different families and organizations in the community.

From the colorful parade to the Mexican food, Viva La Vida Fest pays homage to the original meaning of Dia de los Muertos, but many of the celebration’s events are fundamentally different. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos occurs on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. The first day, Dia de los Angelitos, is for remembering children and infants who have died while the second day is for remembering older loved ones. Families create altars inside the home or in cemeteries and decorate them with photos of the person and offerings, such as the person’s favorite candy, liquor or a package of cigarettes.

Symbols of the holiday include: calaveritas, candied skulls made of either sugar or clay; marigolds, the traditional flower of the dead; and candles, which are both meant to guide spirits back to Earth with their scent and light. In Mexico, these items are used to decorate altars and graves. These symbols are an important part of Austin’s interpretation of Dia de los Muertos and can be found in the festival’s decorations and floats.

Peter Ward, professor of sociology and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said that Dia de Los Muertos is a peaceful, happy time for its participants. Rather than being a mournful reminder of those who have died, the holiday serves as an opportunity to keep their spirits and memories alive.

“One dies three times in Mexico,” Ward said. “The first is when your soul leaves your body—you actually pass away. The second death is when you’re interred in the ground. And then the third death is when no one remembers you anymore. And that’s a very profound thing.”

For Ward, Austin’s celebration of Dia de los Muertos shares an atypical interpretation of death with Americans. The event imparts Mexico’s positive attitude regarding the loss of life.

“I think this is the big difference some societies have over us in the United States,” Ward said. “We’re not terribly good at cultivating this memory. It’s something we find difficult to do.”

While Austin’s Viva La Vida Fest presents a Dia de los Muertos much different from Mexico’s, Orozco said that the celebrations still expose the community to the traditional spirit and attitude of the holiday.

“It’s more about embracing death than being scared of it,” Orozco said. “It’s still feeling that those family members that you honor and remember are still a part of you and your memory.”

Art studio hosts gala to inspire artists with disabilities


Stephen S. proudly displays his bedazzled masterpiece, "Sparkle Chicken" at the Arc of the Arts studio in Austin, Texas. One of Stephen's jeweled sculptures was sold instantly at the Building Bridges silent auction on Oct. 22.

Stephen R. proudly displays his bedazzled masterpiece, “Sparkle Chicken” at the Arc of the Arts studio in Austin, Texas. One of Stephen’s jeweled sculptures was sold instantly at the Building Bridges silent auction on Oct. 22. (Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna)

By Silvana Di Ravenna, Joe McMahon and Alice Kozdemba

In celebration of creativity and talent, the Arc of the Arts Studio and Gallery  hosted its 15th annual Building Bridges art gala and auction at the Hyatt Regency on Barton Springs Rd. on Oct. 22. The gala is one of several annual events that the organization hosts to showcase the work of the studio’s 65 artists.  Arc of the Arts  is part of the Arc of the Capital Area, a nonprofit organization that provides support to intellectually or developmentally challenged teens and adults.

The night featured dozens of art displays, from jewelry and paintings, to drawings and sculptures. Dressed in cocktail attire, artists, donors and volunteers gathered around the displays to marvel at the vibrant colors and creations that were being proudly showcased by the artists of the Arc. Guests were served dinner, and had the chance to participate in art auctions and raffles. Building Bridges is a chance for Arc students to display their best pieces, and all proceeds made at the gala go back into the program.

Ann Wieding, Arc program manager, said students work on skills all year and instructors go through a critique process with each artist to determine which pieces will be displayed at Building Bridges.

“We take pictures and we talk about it, and the really nice pieces start to float to the top,” Wieding said. “Bridges is where everybody puts in 110 percent, and picks out their best piece.”

Tala S. a fifth year student with the program, was dressed to her best for the gala in a leopard printed dress , black jeweled necklace and a matching hat. She stood by her canvas painting of the Austin skyline and smiled for pictures and visitors. Tala has spent her time at the Arc mastering landscape and architecture painting styles.

“I find inspiration in Austin. I’m a big people person and I enjoy this place,” Tala said.


Students like Tala attend daily art classes at the Arc of the Arts Studio on Grover Ave. The classes are offered to students 14 and up, and most of the artists have common developmental disabilities, like autism, down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Classes take place Tuesday-Saturday and cost $25 a day per student.

Tala met her best friend Stephen at the Arc, who has been with the program since 2011. Stephen specializes in animal sculptures and jewelry. He has recently created several rooter sculptures that are intricately bedazzled with exuberant jewels. One of his roosters was showcased at the gala, and was sold almost immediately in the silent auction.

“My mind picks the colors. My mind tells me what to do,” he said.

 Arc classes provide students with basic art instruction from teachers who come from art education backgrounds. They work with students to develop individual skills and interests, as well as providing them with practical skills to help professionalize their artistic careers.

"Sparkly Cupcake" is one of three Arc of the Arts Studio paintings currently being displayed at Hey Cupcake. Ali H., the artists of the paintings helped set up the display, and makes a 20 percent commission on any of the pieces sold. (Photo by Alice Kozdemba)

“Sparkly Cupcake” is one of three Arc of the Arts Studio paintings currently being displayed at Hey Cupcake. Ali H., the artist of the paintings, helped set up the display, and makes a 20 percent commission on any of the pieces sold. (Photo by Alice Kozdemba)

 “Every week they learn a new skill, and when they start focusing on what they want to do as artists, we start taking them through the steps to become a professional artist,” Wieding said.

 In addition to classes and showcases hosted by the Arc, the student artwork has been displayed at local businesses in Austin, such as Hey Cupcake, Quacks Bakery and Kerbey Lane. Ali. H, a current art student , did the series of paintings that are currently displayed at the Hey Cupcake on Burnet Road. Wieding said part of the organization’s mission is to teach the students how to market themselves as working artists.

 “Ali went there and helped hang the show, and she was interviewed by  Community Impact,”Wieding said. “They pretty much follow the procedures that any artist would follow. They have to make the contacts, and do the PR, even if they’re not going to be the world’s most recognized artists.”

 The Arc of the Capital Area was founded in 1949, and was originally called The Association of Retarded Children. Organizers changed the name to Arc, and the arts program was added in 2010. Susan Eason, executive director of the Arc initially came to the organization as a client with her daughter , who was born with a developmental disability. Eason enjoyed the program so much that she began volunteering, and eventually became the director.

A teacher at the Arc of the Arts studio discusses a painting with artist and student Jared S. Teachers collaborate with the artists to develop create and professional skill sets. (Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna)

A teacher at the Arc of the Arts studio discusses a painting with artist and student Jared S. Teachers collaborate with the artists to develop create and professional skill sets. (Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna)

 “It’s really hard when you have a child with disabilities to find child care,” said Eason. “I wanted to meet other families and I was so impressed with the help they gave me that I became a volunteer.”

 Eason has been the Arc director for 23 years, and she said the program is currently waitlisted. Their youngest students are 14-years-old and the oldest is 60-years-old.

 “We serve people from the minute they’re diagnosed until the end of their life. Most students learn how to socialize here. Before this they had no peers or friends. “

In addition to classes, the Arc helps families deal with caring for developmentally challenged loved ones, especially as they approach adulthood. Amiee Chonoski, Arc marketing and volunteer coordinator,  said that the most rewarding part of the job is knowing that they are helping students and their families connect and learn from each other.

“I love working with the Arc because we have an amazing staff, and they love what they do and that’s a beautiful thing to be around every day,” Chonoski said.  “The artists are incredible, they are heroes.”