ARTS: Long before the polar vortex, we witnessed the full impact of Vortex Repertory Company. Twenty-five years ago, in fact, the Austin theater group, founded by University of Texas graduate students, got started. (Disclosure: My first American-Statesman column in 1989 dealt with the Vortexians and their like.) From the beginning, the driving force has been director Bonnie Cullum, whose imagination has hatched sci-fi operas, ancient-seeming rituals and edgy performance art. More than 300 productions and hundreds of awards since "Angels Are Waiting" premiered at Mexic-Arte Museum, and the Vortex is still going strong. During a two-day birthday party, its East Austin headquarters overflowed with activities — live music, tarot readings, performance bits and, of course, food from the Patrizi’s truck. A silent auction raised money for new lighting system to serve the metal performance space carved out of an old warehouse. (Cheers to Bonnie and her gang.)

BUSINESS: Thinkers investivate impact investing. Guests at Impact Texas conference debriefed excitedly during a closing party at the revamped Hotel Ella on Friday. They had spent two days at the AT&T Center discussing the intersection of social entrepreneurship and impact investing, two related trends that tie business solutions to social problems. Organizer Michael Kellerman explained that the concepts are red hot on the coasts, but just getting underway in Texas through groups such as Austin’s Blue Avocado and Houston’s Chilton Capital, who try to do good while making money. Despite the relative newness of the idea in these parts — they’ve been part of the conversation for quite a while — the visitors I engaged over finger food and coffee seemed impressed by how much was already happening here. (Many of those behind the confab, such as Carol Thompson, Margo Weisz and Claire England, would be familiar to locals who follow such efforts.)

HISTORY: Prospecting Pflugerville’s past. From my story in the Statesman: "Pflugerville wasn’t always a suburb of Austin. In fact, before 1965, it wasn’t even a formally incorporated town. Yet folks settled in the fertile farming area as early as the 1840s. And, in 1904, George Pfluger laid out a railroad center that grouped together cotton gins, churches, homes and mercantile structures into a 16-block grid. Still, Pflugerville was pretty isolated out there on the sometimes dusty, sometimes muddy blackland prairie. "People were self-sufficient," says Vernagene H. Mott, 71, born and raised in Pflugerville. "They butchered pork, beef, poultry. They grew orchards of peaches, plums, pears, figs. They planted potatoes, sugar cane, corn. They had vegetable gardens, smokehouses, butter. And, of course, the cheese factory was in Round Rock."" http://shar.es/9Qkv9(Without the embarrassing print typo: "Round Round.")

MUSIC: Taking Green Day’s punk from the studio to the stage. From my story in the Statesman: "Musical theater experts were not remotely shocked when the punk band Green Day’s album, "American Idiot," was turned into a Broadway show. "It was not revolutionary in this regard," says Kaitlin Hopkins, who teaches musical theater at Texas State University. "I was surprised that … it had not happened sooner." In fact, those who study the musical format seriously put "American Idiot" — which plays Bass Concert Hall in a touring version Tuesday through Jan. 18 — in a clear succession of rock/pop/punk shows that go back as far as "Hair" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" in the 1960s and ’70s." http://shar.es/9Qk8e(I have to admit to liking the score.)

TRAVEL: A gentle nudge to social readers: Travel. When you can. I’m not talking about a month bronzing on the Costa Brava. Just some trips to bigger American metros. (Select from 34 larger U.S. metros.) Every now and again. Once there, observe. Take mental notes. Then return with a healthy sketicism about studies that purport to show that Austin ranks near the top of national lists in the cost of living or rampant gentrification, or near the bottom in traffic congestion or charitable giving. Then, once you encounter study results that contradict common sense, go online. Check out the methods. Examine the way the results are reported. Our civic problems are thorny enough without using flawed research to stake out the territory. (And if you see me at a Central Texas social event, ask. I’m here to help understand our city.)