Emotional. Empowering. Efficacious.
The first moments of the minutely staged Celebration of Life Luncheon, which included a brief runway show peopled by women and men who have survived breast cancer, set the tone. What followed kept up the gentle drumbeat for cancer awareness.
The annual benefit for the Seton Breast Care Center and the Zeta Tau Alpha Foundation moved this year to the new Fairmount Hotel. Enough has been said about the towering inn’s head-scratching mix of sleek modern exterior, Imperial Period Las Vegas lobby and Baton Rouge Mall food court. The ballroom, however, is stately and functional, an instant competitor to the large rooms at the JW Marriott, Hyatt Regency Austin and nearby Hilton Austin Hotel.
Competition is good. But enough about the venue.
Luminous jewelry mogul Kendra Scott, whom we first met when she was still working out of the back of her house, could lead any event and did so this day with utmost effectiveness. She led a short and sweet “quiet give” which, truth be told, could have been even shorter, or even silent. Everybody was already primed to give.
The meal, especially the spicy cold soup, was tasty, while the Julian Gold and Gatsby’s fashion runway show kept our attention. A video of songwriter Darden Smith composing a song inspired by survivor Pam Cawther brought back the waterworks, as did his live performance of the piece.
The Fairmont outdid itself with fanciful dessert displays that drew the guests out into the upper lobby and, from there, into the rest of their days.
Party for the Parks
Republic Square Park served many purposes before it became the magical setting for Party for the Parks, which benefits the Austin Parks Foundation.
Edwin Waller’s team auctioned the first city lots in the block set aside as one of Austin’s original four smaller squares. Tonkawas camped there under the protection of early city dwellers. At other times, it marked the anchor for Austin’s chili and spinach canning industries as well as its Mexican-American community.
In the 1930s, city leaders coveted the square for an auditorium that would eventually become the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Some used it as a dump, but perhaps most ignominiously, it gave up its dignity as a parking lot for a former American-Statesman building.
The Parks Foundation, Downtown Austin Alliance and Austin Parks and Recreation combined forces to bring the dusty square back to life. Sustainably landscaped, it is once again the site for a weekend farmer’s market. Daily, it is among the busiest and most pleasant stops in Capital Metro’s bus empire.
To the west is the new, modernist federal courthouse, and to the east a condo tower and an almost-completed hotel. High rises are planned to the north and south.
But for this evening, it was a party place. Enclosed by the natural and built environment, Republic Square glowed at dusk. A short program, ample food and drink and plenty of elbow room made this one of the most agreeable nights in recent memory.
Perhaps it was a bit humid, which might have, along with traffic, kept away a potentially larger crowd. I wasn’t complaining. I found dozens of ideal partners in conversation. I encourage the Parks Foundation to keep the Party for the Parks in a park such as this one.
Fête and Fêt*ish
Has Fêt*ish grown up?
The coltish sibling of the elegant annual Fête started years ago as a dance party to follow Ballet Austin’s black-tie dinner gala. Tickets to the separate event were less expensive and the crowd significantly younger. Yet Fête guests were welcome, too.
While Fête’s décor was dominated by imaginative floral creations from Mandarin Design Lab, Fêt*ish was defined by the undulating digital projections from Ilios Lighting Design.
Eventually, the “reveal” — when the screens between the festive rooms parted — became the climax of the evening. An overwhelming feeling of good will flowed between the two crowds that became one.
Fête remains an essential Austin event. I divide my time between my tablemates — always invigorating — and artists from Ballet Austin, who often flee to the lobby during the lulls in the adult program.
But how cool is Fêt*ish? This year’s enchanted forest theme — meant to whet imaginations for Stephen Mills take on the Grimm tales in the spring — enveloped the dancers in a world of visual and aural fantasy.
I’ve aged out of the group dancing, but maybe next year I’ll just do the late show.
Headliners of Texas
I can’t get enough of journalism awards ceremonies. Not the kind where I might be an accidental nominee. But rather the ones that honor reporting and writing feats that I can only daydream about accomplishing.
Take for instance the Molly Prize, which annually lionizes investigative reporters while benefiting the Texas Observer and keeping alive the memory of intrepid Molly Ivins. Those high-impact journalistic projects bowl me over every time.
Thanks to an invitation from Dan Bullock, I recently attended my first Mike Quinn Awards Luncheon at the Headliners Club. Given out by the Headliners Foundation of Texas, they start with recognition for the 15 or so scholarship recipients, who each talk briefly about their current projects and future plans.
This year, the keynote presentation involved a discussion of Hurricane Harvey coverage among Gulf coastal reporters, photographers and editors Dan Parker (Port Aransas South Jetty), Diana Hunt (Houston Chronicle), David J. Phillip (Associated Press) and Sally Ramirez (KHOU), moderated by UT J-School director and American-Statesman alumna Kathleen McElroy.
The introductory side show alone — which ended with video of the flooded KHOU newsroom — triggered intense emotions. The testimony from the journalists who left behind their families and daily comforts to keep their audiences informed and safe should be instructive to anyone who persists in thinking that the press is the “enemy of the people.”
Then came the prizes.
The Showcase Awards for Enterprise & Innovation in Journalism were giving out by American-Statesman alumnus Fred Zipp. Special recognition was given to Harvey reporting from the Victoria Advocate, South Jetty Newspaper and KERA Pubic Media. A gold medal went to the Texas Tribune for its coverage of excesses at the TABC, while silver medals went to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s reporting on an alarming neighborhood, Houston Chronicle for its look at how the Harvey floods happened, KXAN-TV for exposing overages at TxTag, and Texas Tribune with ProPublica for its pre-and-post Harvey coverage.
Individual John E. Green Journalism Awards went to Bill Churchwell (Best TV Reporter), WFAA-TV (Best TV Investigative Report), KPRC-TV (Best Spot News), Christopher Connelly (Best Radio Reporter), KLRD New Radio (Best Spot News), Mike Hixenbaugh (Star Reporter), Anita Hassan (Star Investigative Reporter), Dave Miller (Star Opinion Writer), Michael Ciaglo (Star Photojournalist), Houston Chronicle (Star Breaking News Report) and WFAATV (Overall Excellence).
Wish I had time to explain each story, but suffice it to say, the achievements are awe-inspiring.