Austin's unique "BE"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What is ATXequation?

Update: It has been a year since the ATXequation conversation began. Taking this moment to reflect on the frequently asked questions we get these days as the word begins to spread. Mostly "What are you doing exactly?" and "Why?"

We continue to explore our original question - what makes Austin special? We're intrigued by the many different discussions this one question prompts - and even more interested in the common thread woven across those answers. ATXequation was borne out of a desire to test the strength of that thread and witness the pattern of the fabric it weaves.

So we've been asking the question and sharing the various answers -- and our hypothesis on their commonalities. For example, we believe that Austin's uniquely-designed experiences and our rich, diverse communities combine to create lasting and powerful "scenes" that make Austin the thriving, vibrant city it is. Some say those scenes have just sprung up organically over time, that there is no method or science to how they've generated themselves. We think that scene-making can be deconstructed to inform those of us who want to continue Austin's legacy of being the best place to live. We think the "how" is important for those Austinites (and others) who are investing themselves now, or will invest themselves as future stewards of our city. Stewards who understand that a strength like Austin's isn't about happenstance, but a unique and special combination that -- like any good recipe -- is improved with each chef that attempts it, but always begins with a set of key ingredients. Thus, the equation: Experience + Community = Scene.

People like to talk about Austin, which makes spreading the word about how to "make a scene" fun and easy. It means encouraging people to elevate their thinking from an isolated, individual or singular community perspective to the scene mentality -- a mindset that means looking across a set of related communities to find what they have in common, and what they don't. By doing this, we can create quicker synergy, collaboration and results for the city we care about so deeply.

The question of what makes Austin so unique - what sort of city Austin is at it's core - brings forward so many different responses. But a very clear theme continues to emerge ... that it's a city that encourages us all to be who we are at our core - to fully express ourselves, and in so doing to connect with others. These connections are evident all across Austin's varied communities and scenes.

In fact, since we began, more than a dozen "scene mappers" have stepped up to document the many communities that make up Austin's scenes: music, arts, technology, entrepreneurship, non-profit and many other scenes are literally being mapped to reveal the connecting points, and places of disconnect. Because the mappers hope that by drawing the dots they'll learn more about how to connect them into a stronger scene. One that is aware of itself as such and sees the power and value in the collective. So far, the "ahas" of the scene mapping process have been many. "Oh really, you're doing that too?" "Why didn't we know about each other sooner!"

To what end is all of this? Perhaps it's best there not be an end, but a constant exploration of the creativity and inclusivity that makes Austin Austin. We can't bottle such a process, but we may be able to distill it's essence just enough for Austinites everywhere and maybe even those outside our fair town to take a sip and not only enjoy, but understand, and begin to share the formula.

We think we're on to something regarding the starting QUEST(ion), "What makes Austin special?" and that question has morphed into another: how do we steward Austin on its journey? Ours was an impulse of stewardship for the city and our real intent is that you take on the office for yourself. It's up to you to be a steward for Austin in whatever way you can imagine - whether that's within or outside of the Atxequation initiative itself. Our job is to lay the groundwork with the model - the "real work" of stewardship is up to us all.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The "Experience" part of the Equation

The Apple Store Experience

The Bootstrap Austin Experience subgroup has explored the Hideout Theatre, RunTex and the Alamo Drafthouse, each time asking the question: "what makes this place so exceptional at creating lasting, favorable experiences for its customers?" This ongoing discussion lead to the insight that well-designed experiences are such a critical part of Austin's unique identity. Ergo, Experience + Community = Scene.

This month Bijoy and Heather will share the Experience Model inside the Apple Store at The Domain. Our friends at Apple have offered us an exclusive after-hours tour to explore the service-excellence that is known worldwide as the "Apple Experience." For those who want to continue the discussion afterwards, we'll wander down to a nearby watering hole in the Domain.

Sunday, October 18 from 6:00 - 8:30 pm
The Apple Store at the Domain

Space is limited to the first 35 people that commit to join. Please only RSVP if you are certain to make it, and change your RSVP if circumstances change!

Link to Evite for RSVP:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's Your Scene?

No one can deny that the burgeoning and ever-evolving online communities play a major role in shaping the world around us. Well, there’s no rule anywhere that says we can’t help shape those communities back, is there? That’s what the Austin Equation is all about for me: the creative communities expanding horizons, blurring the lines between and within different and sometimes isolated local scenes. We’re all part of Austin already, we just don’t necessarily talk. Well, let’s talk.

In order to thread the web of interactivity among the different Austin creatives, though, first we need to explore and identify the creatives and their scenes in Austin, which come from any number of industries and backgrounds. The Austin Equation is supporting my efforts with launching the Austin Interactive Initiative (also known as Aii) to create a cohesive and inclusive network of talented business members who are themselves committed to showcasing Austin as a city of wonderful and inexhaustible ingenuity. But how do we know who’s a part of it all, and how do we include you?

Enter the Interactive Scene Map.

We used Mindmeister to track what we know about the Austin creative scenes. The map begins with the Austin Interactive Scene and branches out to include sectors we have so far identified, such as press and media, academia, the public sector, non-profits, and events, among others. The Scene Map is intended to bring together Austin professionals like you who make up the local creative class. Use the Map to visualize Austin’s interactive network, something we are all a part of and can both add to and benefit from, in order to facilitate connections and build the community.

We have begun the process of mapping out these scenes, businesses, and industries, but it is in no way complete. We want you to come and join the conversation. Add your industry to the Map and merge your creative talent and energy with ours to create a community with more richness, more knowledge, more talent—and more opportunities—than any of us can accomplish alone. Our strength is in collaboration, and our success will come from learning about and interacting with one another to generate a community that is more than the sum of its disparate parts.

Get involved!

Please linkin with me, and I will invite you to collaborate by placing your own stake on the map. We are also looking to convene a circle of interactive community leaders, so if you are interested in helping organize our next face to face meeting, please let me know. The focus of the meeting is vision building, making new connections, sharing ideas, and learning from each other.

On my company blog, The Squared Root, you can also find various articles related to various community members in Austin's Interactive Network who have helped us along our journey this year.

Join the emerging community that is both pushing the boundaries of what we know and can do and evolving into something new and uniquely Austin. We talk, we blog, we post, we comment, and we involve ourselves in every facet of creative Austin, forging connections and learning how to help each other.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Art, Music, Theater Scenes Featured

Bijoy will showcase the Art, Music and Theater Scene Maps at a panel this Thursday, 6pm at City Hall. The panel, Weathering the Economic Storm, is part of a series hosted by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin.

Fellow panelists include Kevin Patterson, Peter Frumkin and Victoria Corcoran, with Robert Faires from the Austin Chronicle as moderator.

Join us for a lively and interactive discussion!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Austin Theater Scene map

The Austin Theater scene map began with a request from Bijoy Goswami. He showed me his then-nascent map of the impressive Austin entrepreneurial scene as a starting point, and asked about my interest in cataloging and relating in visual format the Austin Theater scene. As we discussed the idea, what emerged was the idea of a visual map as a tool for growth, knowledge, diagnosis, and self-awareness of the Austin theater scene and it's participants. These possibilities excite me.

Bijoy and I then met with Cyndi Williams and Liz Fisher and talked out which categories of constituents belonged on the map. We began with the rule that the map is of organizations, not of individuals (at least for now). We hammered out the top-level categories and listed a few organizations to fill in some blanks.

To collect the data, I began using Mindjet's MindManager software. I solicited feedback from Curtis Luciani, and Spike Gillespie at this early stage to fill in some of the blanks. As a step towards the final version of the map, that data has now been imported into the MindMeister service for easy web-publishing. At time of writing this post, I am sure this map suffers from remaining holes what need filling.

Presently, Ron Berry (of Fusebox Festival) and Travis Bedard (of Cambiare Productions) have edit rights to help steward this project to a more comprehensive and accurate state. At some point, I imagine we'll open up edit rights to a much wider, and potentially public, circle. Meanwhile, leave feedback here about what is missing and we'll attend.

Eventually, I'm hoping for a piece of software dedicated to Scene Mapping. Ideally this mapping tool will first allow the user to select the constituent categories and organizational attributes (e.g. annual budget, equity status, production quantity, performance style, birthdate, etc.) they desire, and then deliver the user a graphical image showing the organizations laid out in proximity according to their affinity by those variables.

[A question about the theater scene map's current contents is "where does light, sound, scenic design fit?" Note that also missing is actors and directors. At present, they are all represented in the map as participants/employees of producing organizations.]

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Alamo Experience

The Bootstrap Austin Experience Subgroup visited the Alamo Drafthouse and chatted with cofounder, Karrie League. The Alamo is a great example of the "Experience" part of the Austin Equation.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Eugene Sepulveda: New Frames

Eugene blogged on the initiative and described it as finding new frames through which to view Austin.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Michael Barnes - Austin as "Open City"

One of our thought partners on Austin Equation, Michael blogs about Austin as an "Open City." He also explains his preference over Richard Florida's notion of "Tolerant."

We have reposted his blogposts here.

Michael Barnes

Austin as Open City 1

Today, I had planned to nominate “Open City” as Austin’s new sobriquet.
Yet our hometown acted more like “Closed City” after the mall and the club partially shut down during Texas Relays weekend, the city’s premier African American social event, in fear of rowdiness.

At parties all weekend, including some Relays-related ones, hosts and guests expressed concern, outrage or just plain befuddlement over the closings, agreeing with City Manager Marc Ott , who said: “I find this not to be consistent with the way I’ve come to know Austin.”
Certainly not the Austin I encounter, night after night, as your social columnist.
Some activists have called for boycotts. In the case of already beleaguered Highland Mall, that might inadvertently hasten the demise of the largest retail outlet convenient to many African Americans. What would that solve?
And what of the feared rowdiness?
I walked up and down East Sixth Street late Saturday night. It was no different from any other frisky, holiday weekend night, except the skirts appeared a bit shorter and the heels a bit higher.
Who sent out that style memo?
More to come…
Austin as Open City 2

Austin has suffered through a history of cursed slogans.

More than 100 years ago, short story writer O. Henryintroduced “The City of the Violet Crown,” a rather ephemeral catchphrase, based on atmospheric phenomena, not a headdress worn during pagan seasonal rites, as one might guess.

austinsunset.jpgAnybody notice a violet haze over the hills recently? I thought not. 
Fifty years earlier, a French traveller suggested something like “City of 12,000 Mounds,” an unflattering reference to Rome’s eternal seven hills.
Actually, I think he meant it as a compliment.
Through most of the 20th Century, Austin made do with “River City,” a  rallying cry it shared with 5,763 other North American burgs, including the fictional location of “The Music Man.”
The name survives through businesses and teams such as River City Aquatics, River City Rangers Soccer Club and River City Donuts.
Really? River City was the best our fore-parents could do? Well, Houston was known as “Bayou City” before it became “Space City.” Not much more concise.
More to come…
Austin as Open City 3
Mustachioed former flower salesman and city council member Max Nofziger pushed through “Live Music Capital of the World.”
While the claim stuck, the trademark remains controversial because of the original per-capita-music calculations, and because, as this column has pointed out before, we don’t support a music industry. We support a liquor industry fronted by some very talented, underpaid musicians.
Nofziger’s gift has also inspired hundreds of imitators, such as, for South Austin, “Live Taco Trailer Capital of the World,” and, for downtown, “Live Wine Bar Capital of the World.” (OK, I just made those up.)
A few years back, billboards popped up with the phrase “Idea City” accompanied by a fanciful city skyline.
I liked that — short, sweet, descriptive of Austin’s newly celebrated creative class.
Turns out it was the name of advertising giant GSD&M’s headquarters on West Sixth Street. Austin loses again on the watchword front.
Leadership Austin’s Heather McKissick and Bootstrap’s Austin’s Bijoy Goswami are currently noodling on a clever new city slogan. I’ll let them reveal their brainchild officially in their own good time, but if you want a preview, just Google their names.
As so often with the Internet, all will be revealed.
More to come …
Austin as Open City 4
“Open City” came to me while “brainstorming” with Heather McKissick and Bijoy Goswami the other day at Dominican Joe coffee house on Riverside Drive. (I prefer that colloquial term to “spit-balling” or, worse, “blue-skying.”)
My nomination for city slogan starts with an airy vowel, clipped by a crisp consonant, ending after only four syllables.
And it is, so to speak, “open” to numerous interpretations. Austinites are naturally open to change, innovation and difference. Yet they are also congenitally open to preservation, conservation and authenticity.
I like “open” better than the related and widely trafficked “tolerant.” In “The Rise of the Creative Class,” his mash note to Austin and her sister cities, Richard Florida theorized that those thriving centers remained healthy, economically, after the information revolution because they were “tolerant.”
I’ve lost my taste for that word. It sounds condescending, as in “we don’t approve of you, but we can, for the sake of business, tolerate you.” That’s not the Austin I want to live in.
Because of a twisted youth, “Open City” also reminds me of the Roberto Rossellini ’s 1945 neo-realist movie “Roma: Città Aperta.” The title translates, of course, to “Rome: Open City.”
The subtitle relates to a wartime option used when a threatened city is abandoned in order to save its landmarks and civilians, as the Germans and Italians opted with Rome, retreating before the Allies in World War II.
I daydream that Austin could be considered an open city in the culture wars. As rural and (mostly) western Texans tangle with urban and (mostly) eastern and central Texans — Rep. Tom Craddick vs. Rep. Joe Straus ; Gov. Rick Perry vs. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison , to use red-only examples — Austin could become the place where a truce allows both sides to lay down their arms to relax, reflect and recreate.
Hey, isn’t that what happens anyway when the Legislature is in session? Even though politically motivated Austin-bashing may erupt, the legislators, aides, lobbyists and state employees take advantage of our physical and cultural amenities. Believe me when I say they do.
I’m the one roaming the Open City.

Saturday, March 14, 2009