arts eclectic

It's not uncommon for Bonnie Cullum to create an ambitious undertaking at the Vortex. Cullum and her company have spent the past three decades trying to create something that will top whatever their previous show was. But their current piece, Performance Park, might hold the record as largest Vortex production for the foreseeable future.

"This project just immediately captured my attention," says Andrea Mellard, the Contemporary Austin's director for public programs. "I could immediately imagine what it would look like to see this vintage Icelandic fishing boat -- that's been outfitted to look a little like a Venetian gondola -- flying under the plump Pegasus sail, with the musicians in their formal wear. ... It just seemed like something out of a dream."

"This is our 68th year of holding a festival here in Austin for arts," says Eric Hiduke, Chairman of the Board for Art Alliance Austin. "It used to be called Fiesta, used to be held at Laguna Gloria. We do it a little differently now."

Years ago, musician Peggy Stern created the Wall Street Jazz Festival in Kingston, New York. When she relocated to Austin a few years ago, Stern created Lulu Fest, a similar but different musical festival. Like the Wall Street Festival, Lulu celebrates female bandleaders, but unlike the earlier fest, and in keeping with her new town's wider-ranging musical tastes, Lulu embraces not just jazz but all sorts of music.

"Lulu Fest has broad musical appeal... because we think that's the best way into the audience here in Austin," says Stern. "But all of the sets do contain a component of improvisation, which is what we consider jazz."

"I moved to Austin in... '97, with the idea of making it to UT, which never happened," says Salvage Vanguard co-artistic director Florinda Bryant. "And ended up auditioning for Laurie Carlos and meeting Sharon Bridgeforth. That particular audition quite honestly changed the course of my life."

That audition was for the premiere run of Bridgeforth's con flama; Bryant was cast in the show under the direction of Carlos. Bryant didn't know it at the time, but getting cast in con flama set her on a path of arts education that she probably never could have gotten at a college. "[It] gave me an opportunity to explore my craft and become an artist that I didn't even dream was possible," she says. "Working in the jazz aesthetic and working under... two such strong mentors."

In the past couple of years, Salvage Vanguard lost its longtime theater space on Manor Road, and Bryant lost one of her mentors when Carlos passed away. "And I was like, 'okay, I need other artists to be being trained in this particular methodology so that I can continue to do my work,'" Bryant says. "So it seemed really natural to be able to bring this show into our season as a way of honoring my elders, as a way of honoring Laurie Carlos, who's now one of my ancestors."