Four years ago, Mexic-Arte Museum transformed its dressy traditional gala into a one-of-kind phenomenon, the Catrina Ball. Picking up the Day of the Dead theme from the season and building on the museum’s long leadership in celebrating that Mexican holiday, backers brought together timely art, costumed performers and guests who donned flowered headdresses, flamboyant apparel and, especially, skull-themed facial make-up.

Some of the guests this week at the Fairmont Austin Hotel gathered at face-painting pre-parties; others took advantage of the artists from Maus Makeup Artistry School who worked at handy stations the lobby. Across the way, fierce-looking members of Danza Azteca Guadalupana de Austin roused the crowd, while music from Francisco Chavez y Amikoo’ob provided a suitable atmosphere for the indigenous-themed evening.

Inside the ballroom, the mood changed as the Nash Hernandez Orchestra played American big-band standards. Board Chairman Michael Torres gave a rather mystical introduction to the program, which included a short, sharp, politically charged keynote address by Carols Tortolero, founder and president of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago; the Patron of the Arts Award given to businessman Manuel Zuniga, who gave thanks for access to Mexican culture in Austin; and the Lifetime Achievement Award handed to Guatemalan-Mexican artist Rina Lazo, whose mural on Mayan themes will appear in a hoped-for reinvention of the museum.

RELATED:Mexic-Arte to house mural by former Diego Rivera assistant Rina Lazo.

In a moment that stirred some of us old-timers, museum Director Sylvia Orozco saluted the late Pio Pulido, who with Orozco and late artist Sam Coronado founded Mexic-Arte in an old warehouse in 1984.

The Catrina Ball promised still more hours of activity on its printed schedule by the time I left, fully sated with conversation and such a culturally rich program.

Travis Audubon

When charities ask how many people they should honor each year, I say, be like Travis Audubon and other smart groups, commemorate just one. That way, your list of winners will be unimpeachable.

This group’s Victor Emanuel Conservation Awards started in 2010 by recognizing its namesake, a pioneer in ecotourism and founder of Austin-based Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, whose outings span the globe.

RELATED: Victor Emanuel goes back to nature again and again.

Every single winner since then has been a superstar, including this year’s inductee, George Cofer. Best known for his longtime leadership of the Hill Country Conservancy, Cofer’s relationship with the land goes back to his family ranch in Uvalde County and his Huck Finn youth in what is now West Lake Hills, when it was out in the Hill Country.

Later, Cofer was a leader in the epic battle to protect Barton Springs, but he realized, too, that one could set aside enormous amounts of green space by working with enlightened landowners, often the natural stewards of their bounty. Cofer and company also blazed the Violet Crown Trail, which will link the Barton Creek Greenbelt with a hiking link all the way to Hays County.

RELATED: George Cofer works to save open spaces.

Travis Audubon’s annual awards luncheon has grown in size and, um, length during its years at the Austin Country Club. For all the wonderful conversations to be had, I’d argue that three hours is pushing it.

Yet nobody can argue with the pound-for-pound impact of this sterling nonprofit outfit that proves that birding is a gateway to a more profound relationship with nature around us.