Austin's unique "BE"

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Create and enjoy SXdipity

Serendipity: discovering something awesome while looking for something else. i.e. penicillin.

SXdipity: discovering something awesome while looking for something else at SXSW

By now, you've scanned the schedule, consulted guides, RSVPd to umpteen parties, added the SX Houses Google Map and you're ready to go. And while you will indeed have a fantastic time, no matter where you are, there's a whole other experience to be had where you generate and enjoy SXdipity with your fellow SXers.

While you can't engineer it (it wouldn't be SXdipity if it were planned!), here are 3 simple actions you can take:

1. Create a SXdipity Posse.  SXdipity arises from a group of friends discovering and sharing the cool things they're encountering. GroupMe is a fantastic tool for this. Start up a SXdipity group and add new friends to it as you go along. Then start sharing, especially as you're experiencing anything cool.

2. Be present, wherever you are. As you engage in conversations, be curious. Ask yourself, "what SXdipity can I create for this person?" It could be a cool panel or party they should check out. Or a person they should connect with. Or something you learned that would be valuable to them. Then make that connection right then and there.

3. Prepare to abandon the plan for something entirely new and unexpected. As you talk to people, they might share something great that will take you away from your plan. Go for it!

When in doubt, keep in mind the immortal words of the New Radicals: you only get what you give!

Enjoy! And use #SXdipity to share the goodness that's happened!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Austin: A Temple for You

Public art in a city can reflect and steward its unique meaning.

And so it does in Austin, where we have a number of iconic artworks which convey "be yourself" to visitors and inhabitants. Murals like Hi, How Are You? (Daniel Johnston), Greetings from Austin (Todd Sanders), i love you so much (Jo's Coffee SoCo) convey the care with which we treat each other and our journeys. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery is a collaborative art space where all are welcome to contribute. Three Austin heroes have statues around town. Angelia Eberly (Pat Eliphant, CAST) saved Austin as the capital of Texas by sounding the alarm. Stevie Ray Vaughan (Ralph Helmick) and Willie Nelson (Clete Shields, CAST) embody our live music and the spirit of expressing yourself. And perhaps soon, Leslie Cochran, who was so inimitably themselves, will take their place in the Austin pantheon. Even Eeyore, whose birthday Austin has celebrated since 1963, has a statue.

In the fall "Austin" by Ellsworth Kelly will open on the lawn of the Blanton Museum. The project was introduced in late 2015 and has been in construction. Just as AKHOB reflects Vegas as the City of Illusion, "Austin" evokes Austin's "be yourself" ethos. As if to describe the city of experiences that Austin is, Simone Wicha, Blanton Museum director described it as, "... a space you walk into and experience." Which Austin is she describing - the art piece or the city itself?! Kelly envisioned it as a place of contemplation, a spiritual place. On each of the walls of its three axes are circular panes of multi-colored glass, arranged in different configurations and projecting light into the space. To the ATXequation, these represent Austin's scenes and the communities and experiences for the individual to explore. Along eye level are black and white yin-yang squares, each comprising different shapes. From the spectrum of possibility, a set of choices to be made about who we are and how we express various aspects of ourselves. They remind us that there is no one right way to be yourself and each one of us must find our unique expression in the world. In the chancel is the only object in the structure, a solitary obelisk. It's a literal "I" standing in for the individual for whom this temple exists. It is both a space to reflect on and a metaphor of our (I)ndividuation; the never-ending journey of becoming ourselves.

This fact of our uniqueness was solved by Kelly in a most curious way. As art historian Yve-Alain Bois explains (texthe spent a lifetime eliminating the "artist's hand" trying to achieve impersonality and non-agency. Responding to Picasso, whose hand was so ever-present in everything he did, Kelly went the other way, trying to take individuality out of the frame. In these efforts he arrived at 5 methods: transfer, chance, grid, monochrome panel and silhouette. Through all of these efforts, practiced over many decades, the exact opposite happened. Kelly "proved' that the individuality cannot, in fact, be removed. As Bois points out, "nothing is more recognizable than a work by him and nothing is more idiosyncratic than what it picks doing so, he teaches us there are many more ways to see...his art is an injunction to explore in our OWN terms an expanded field of vision.

Chapels by other artists focus on what's "out there." Christianity as with Matisse, the void with Rothko. Turrell's AKHOB embodies Vegas by discombobulating the viewer and transporting them directly into the illusion. Austin does the exact opposite, gently embracing and holding space for us, providing illumination to and reflection for our unfolding journey.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Vegas: City of Illusion

If Austin is "be yourself" and LA is "be famous" what about Las Vegas? "Be your alter-self" is the phrase that often comes up. And indeed, Vegas is the place to indulge our novelty and stimulus-seeking primal brains, where we can participate in the activities that allow us to let loose and have a good time. Its monikers "sin city," "adult Disneyland" and tagline: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas -  perfectly capture the city's unique ethos. More over, when Vegas tried to be family-friendly a decade ago, it completely flopped and returned back to its core.

How does Vegas pull off its "be your alter-self" theme? By turning the whole city into an illusion, a magic trick, a mirage. First, and most importantly, Vegas is a mirage in the desert of Nevada. It appears, most improbably, out of nowhere, especially when approached by road. As if to exemplify the point, one of the marquee hotels on the strip is called the Mirage. Vegas has housed the largest number of literal illusionists, including Penn and Teller, David Copperfield, Criss Angel and Siegried and Roy and Cirque du Soleil's incredible shows transport you to different worlds. The illusion continues as you walk into Paris, New York, Luxor and Venice. You listen to musicians playing cover songs, either of themselves or others. Elvis finished his career in Vegas, playing the Elvis of a bygone era. You engage in the illusion that you can make money at a casino, whose odds are setup against you. And even on the streets, the illusion continues as buskers and street artists help to complete the illusion. In that sense, it's even more impressive than Disneyland, where all the performers are employed by one company. In Vegas, thousands of "independent actors" human and non, work side-by-side to co-create the fantastic illusion. 

And soon enough, you will hit the limit of your primal brain's enjoyment and it will be satiated. It seems the average is 3 days, but it's likely not much more than 5! At whatever place you hit your cut-off point, you're ready to get back to your real life, having fully enjoyed the illusion. Vegas has done its good work as the temporary off-road for your primal brain.

In 2013, Vegas got AKHOB, created by James Turrell, whose artistic statement reveals his fascination with illusion and created realities which perfectly captures the city's unique meaning. It sits atop the Louis Vuitton CityCenter Store and can only be viewed by appointment. After you enter the chamber and stay for a while, things start to distort and your sense of time and space warp. The illusion is at work!

The stewardship of a city's unique meaning, is incredibly important because it orients visitors and inhabitants alike. Interested in illusion-making? Come to Vegas! Interested in fame and the creation of personal brands? Come to LA! Interested in discovering and expressing yourself? Come to Austin! And so on.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making a Scene

As told by ATXEquation student Sydney Comeaux

Up to this point, we have broken down the first two components in the Austin Equation—experience and community. While these elements are both imperative, the equation remains irrelevant without discussing the final outcome. At last, it’s time for us to begin investigating the unique characteristics of the third component—scene. The general idea of the term scene has been tossed around during lecture often, but it’s now time to start delving deeper with a more critical approach. In class we learned about three different perspectives that offer unique approaches for analyzing what’s in a scene and how scenes are made. The first perspective is purely Austin Equation-based. The second perspective focuses on scale free Networks. And, the third perspective is concerned with platforms.

The first perspective focuses on everything that comprises and makes up a scene. It is purely Austin Equation-based. According to this model, a scene is an aggregation of experiences and communities surrounding a particular area. The things you see within the scene are the communities and experiences that we’ve already discussed. Mapping is useful tool for illustrating the networks within a scene—not just what it is, but how everyone and everything within it is connected. While there are many scenes that are somewhat limited within their own networks, there are also some scenes that crossover. For instance, charity, fundraising, and non-profit organizations exist in every scene from education to music to media alike. For every scene there are several defining factors. In all scenes, there are a vast amount of experiences that aid in bringing and holding the scene together. Also, scenes are noted for bringing people from the outside in. In a sense, scenes are put on display. They bring all of the communities under one roof and can cross-pollinate with other scenes. Scene-level organizations, as opposed to communities, evangelize for the scene. In this way, they operate at a different, higher level. The steward-level responsibility is much broader as well. At the scene-level, you have to think beyond yourself; instead you must focus on how to integrate others.

The second perspective explains Scale-free Networks. These types of networks exist in every aspect of life including communities, scenes, nature, and so on. Scale free networks include many small nodes that are held together by a few hubs. Small world explains the short paths between any two nodes. Evolution occurs when hubs emerge through growth and preferential attachment. Competition exists as nodes with high fitness become hubs. Robustness denotes resilience against random errors. There’s something about certain nodes where connectivity is something they do. This is precisely how you get a scene. There are important nodes that hold the network together. Nodes also connect other nodes to one another. In class we compared this to DNA, which has the same network structure. From a stewardship perspective, you have to be strong, hyperactive nodes to have a robust scene. Connectivity must be nurtured because that is what creates a sense of connection, cohesion and so on.

The third perspective takes platforms into consideration. Platforms include architects or sponsors, providers, enhancers, and end users. For example, consider the iPhone as a platform. The sponsor or architect is Apple. The platform providers are Apple, ATT, Verizon, and others. The enhancers are the minds behind the varying applications, and the end users are the consumers that benefit from getting to use gorgeous devices that have integrated experiences. As a platform architect, you have to think through a lot of different complexities. There are a lot of different characters within a scene, so how do you help the scene move forward while still making sure that everyone gets what they need? Very few organizations are able to maintain a high level for a long time for this reason.

So, how does one make a scene? First, there must be quality experiences at the scene level such as Southby, ACL, and Fashion Week. There must be vibrant, unique communities that all serve a different purpose—think MRE model. Finally, there must be scene-level awareness and cross-community collaboration including events, members and promotions. When a person feels like part of a scene they should feel like they are not just a part of a small, independent group; rather they should feel like they are part of something much larger.

Austin Creative Scene Steward Marcy Hoen

As told by ATXEquation student Katie Dahlstrom

Brain researcher, hair stylist, and steward in the Austin creative scene, just a regular day in the life of Marcy Hoen, the Executive Director for Austin Creative Alliance. Austin Creative Alliance, whose mission is “to advance, connect and celebrate Austin’s arts, cultural, and creative communities”, was born about a year and a half ago. The ATXEquation class had the pleasure of hearing Marcy’s journey from her internship at a brain research laboratory fresh out of college, to her current position. “An embodiment of the Austin Equation”, as Bijoy dubbed Marcy, began her Austin art scene stewardship working as a hairstylist and manager at Saks Fifth Avenue. Fed up with the tired, old hair photos adorning the walls of the salon, Marcy decided to instead fill the space with local artists’ work. Word got around and soon other businesses and clients wanted her to do the same for their spaces. Marcy’s local art expertise then led to guided tours of galleries and curating of shows at private homes which caught the eye of Austin Creative Alliance, where she has been since last March. Marcy described Austin Creative Alliance as a “scene of scenes, without one strength you do not have the other”, which is represented in its logo of overlapping circles. She went on to describe what she believes about stewardship, “stewardship is about leadership…people are becoming more aware that they don’t want to be led…the community leads itself.” It is about listening, and going out into the community and seeing what its needs are. In stewarding a scene you have to find partners that may not initially be seen as a fit, but best serve the community. When asked, “why Austin?” Marcy’s response was a speedy, “Austin is the ‘Marsha’, everyone wants to do things the way we’re doing them.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Don't be part of the scenery, be a part of the scene!

As told by ATXEquation student Ben Lorimer

Starfish or Spider? These two models of networking have very different qualities. Out of context, other than the shape, these two entities are very different. In the context of scenes and social networking, they too, are very different. The spider can be seen as a centralized entity; it can't function without all of its parts. It has a clear leader and works to make economical profits. What is a starfish? Well, we look at the starfish as a decentralized model of human management of a network. One important quality to focus on when talking about a starfish is to understand the adaptability it has. If you cut off one of its legs, it will grow back; in some cases, a whole new starfish can regenerate from just one leg. Why then, is this model favorable? The beauty of this design feature is that there is no one true leader. Anyone can take on that role through example, but the important part of this is that the whole system works together to create something other than just market capital.

We have three areas of capital interest to look at: market, social, and political. We assign the spider to market capital, the starfish to social capital, and have political capital as an area in between the two. We see the starfish as a favorable model because of its commitment to adaptability and creating more and more social capital. Sure, market capital helps the world go round, but we want to step back from that and look at this in smaller sections. Take Austin for example. Austin is a city booming in entrepreneurial involvement. It's the "be yourself" city! This scene focuses around the starfish model. You can have one area of involvement and interest, but if it doesn't work out, breaking off and finding another suitable area of interest is possible, thus creating more and more social capital.

This is where we see the awesome example of Bijoy Goswami and his involvement in the entrepreneurial scene here in Austin. We talked about how Austin is being nationally recognized for its entrepreneurship, but which kind. Bootstrapping! Austin is the be yourself city, so why should that change in relation to local business? We're a city of unique people with unique ideas. Starting a local business, though Austin is full of them, isn't an easy task. It is more important that you first understand who you are and what you want to accomplish. That is the first stage of this model; the you stage. Second, it's the question stage. This is where you awaken and figure something out that you have a passion for and want to progress this passion on an entrepreneurial journey. Third, we have the ideation stage where you start "doing". Networking, talking to people, and getting your idea out in the community. Fourth, the Valley of Death. This is where you start to get your return on investment in a social sense. Never underestimate the power of social capital. From there, the final stage is growth. If the networking has been achieved, then your business may start to grow and expand further than you might have expected.

It's not about one leader in the entrepreneurial world; it's a collection of leaders that work together to exchange social capital with one another that will in turn help each other's entrepreneurial goals come to reality. Remember, don't be part of the scenery, be a part of the scene!

Group Presentations on Austin's Fashion and Food Scenes

As told by ATXEquation student Fred Tan

Two of the scene groups the Austin Equation presented today: the fashion scene and the foodie scene. This was the first of three presentations that will occur throughout the semester. In this presentation, the groups focused on the experience and community models.

The fashion group was the first to present. The experience the chose was a visit to the innovative jewelry store Kendra Scott. This jeweler is unique because they specialize as a community centered store, engaging customers in an interactive and personalized shopping experience. The have the customers design their own jewelry and wow them by never saying no to a design. The fashion group also touched on the various local communities in the fashion scene and listed several of them. Some of the communities identified were 2nd Start, Fashionably Austin, Fashion Freakout, and Tribeza Style. These communities, as they discovered, fit nicely into the community model. The fashion group went more in depth with the UT fashion community known as Hook Em’ Fashion, a community of University of Texas fashion enthusiasts with missions, events, and protocols.

The foodie group members were the next presenters. They followed the same presentation formula as the fashion group, but talked about… food. For their experience, they chose the 2010 Gypsy Picnic. Here, almost all of the food trailers banded together to showcase their food in a fun local community event. However, the group found that the experience was a large failure due to long lines, poor parking options, and food shortages. Despite its shortcomings, they Gypsy Picnic still met the criteria of the experience model, locating attendees with popular trailers, engaging them with a children’s playground and a cook-offs, and wowing them with live music and an environmentally conscious mission. The foodie group continued their presentation with a discussion about the various communities in the food scene. Some of the communities they listed were Austin Food Trailers Alliance, Casa De Luz, Vegans Rock Austin, Farm to Market, and the Whole Foods Community. Like the fashion group, they placed these communities into the community model and explained their mission, activity, interconnectedness, and protocols.