Deep in the heart of Texas
Texas stars shine big and bright during elegant Austin gala honoring the arts
If you noticed a glow around Austin this week, that's the color of Texas pride. The 2019 recipients of Texas’ highest arts recognition were celebrated during two days of festivities that included a visit to the Governor’s Mansion and concluded with a red carpet reception, awards show, and gala dinner at the Long Center on February 27.
As we all know, a long list of notable and creative talent has emerged from the Lone Star State. And every other year, a handful of these Texas-born artists are honored with a Texas Medal of Arts Award.
Clad in primped tuxedos and gowns befitting of a Hollywood event (a few dresses even designed by honoree Brandon Maxwell), the elegant crowd drank Champagne on the Long Center mezzanine while enjoying some of Austin’s signature live music. Later, during the awards show, they learned more about the 2019 honorees and the importance of arts education.
Dressed in a classic single-breasted suit and accompanied by his wife, Camila Alves McConaughey, their children, and his mother, Kay, Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey was the most recognizable member of this year's class.
During his trip down the red carpet, McConaughey said he and his wife are exposing their kids to the arts, while also teaching them that success in any field takes hard work.
“I think it’s about determining what their initial innate abilities are and putting more of that in front of them. At the same time, they’ve got to learn, as we say in football, to block and tackle ... to learn to do stuff that is not highly creative first,” he explained. “And you’ve got to have the discipline. [My kids] understand that I have a discipline to do what I do ... that I don’t just roll out of bed and just go do it.”
He added that he thinks there are two key factors that help cultivate the arts in Texas: that Texans are encouraged to explore the world outside of state lines and that they are inherently fearless. When asked about the honor, his response was short but meaningful. “It feels really good. It’s a quintessentially Texan award, and I’m a Texan.”
The winner of this year’s award for design, Brandon Maxwell, was already in the spotlight this week when his friend Lady Gaga accepted her first Oscar in a dress he designed. Maxwell says he didn’t know Gaga was going to wear one of his creations, and the news was a welcome surprise. “That was a dream come true,” he said.
The outspoken artist (who ran well over his two-minute allotted speech time at the awards ceremony to the delight of the more than 1,000 attendees in the audience), started off as a photographer and stylist, and has enjoyed great success with his relatively new luxury women’s line. In less than four years, Maxwell’s designs have been thrust into the spotlight by a long list of influential women including Oprah Winfrey, Meghan Markle, Michelle Obama, and Reese Witherspoon.
Like his fellow Longview compadre McConaughey, Maxwell emphasized the role of hard work in his success. “I was the least talented, the least beautiful, and the least ‘all the things.’ I think I just showed up early, stayed late, and worked super hard.”
Of this uniquely Texas honor, Maxwell said it means everything to him. “I am very proud of where I come from," he said. "I love Texas, and I think I’ve only really started to have visible success when I’ve been very open and honest about where I come from. I’m 34 years old, and to be the first person to receive this award for fashion is just a dream come true, so I’ve been crying all week. I’m very blessed.”
This year's musical honoree, Boz Scaggs, is a rock ‘n’ roll legend, having played guitar with the Steve Miller Band while also enjoying solo success as a singer, songwriter, and musician. During the ceremony, Scaggs was joined on stage by fellow Texans Jimmie Vaughn and Ray Benson.
Lauded photographer Mark Seliger, whose skilled eye landed him a gig as chief photographer for Rolling Stone from 1992-2002, resulting in 125 magazine covers, was also given a medal.
During his acceptance speech, Seliger reminisced about how a childhood bet with his brother about getting on base in a little league game helped set the stage for his future success. After striking out a few times, he was hit by a pitch, giving him an automatic base — and a new $6.99 camera.
Houston native and Tony Award winner Jennifer Holliday took home an award for her contributions to theater. She’s best known for originating the role of Effie in Dreamgirls. She sang her signature song, “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” during the awards ceremony.
Another Houstonite, visual artist Trenton Doyle Hancock, said growing up in Texas had a profound impact on his scope of creativity, perhaps summed up best one of the reasons the state has produced so many notable creative talents.
“Texas is about diversity," he said. "There are many different voices, and those voices are broadcast in a way that is very loud and there’s a lot of space for those voices to grow.”
About being in this year’s class of honorees, he added, “I’m beyond words ... It’s amazing to see the breadth of creativity that’s happening in multiple disciplines, and to be counted amongst these people who have made great strides and accomplishments in their disciplines. It’s really amazing.”
Other Texas Medal of Arts recipients this year include novelist Stephen Harrigan, architects Elaine Molinar and Craig Dykers, the Vidal M. Treviño School of Communications and Fine Arts in Laredo, and Austin musical ensemble Conspirare.
In total, nearly $1.8 million was raised during the event, which serves as the marquee fundraiser for the Texas Cultural Trust.
This year, there were more than a thousand Texas Medal of Arts nominations across disciplines, according to Heidi Marquez Smith, executive director of the Texas Cultural Trust.
Marquez Smith said she’s proud of the fact that the awards recognize both household names and others who are famous in their fields.
“I think it’s important to recognize that the arts bring in $5.59 billion in a calendar year to our state. That’s huge," she said. "And if we can continue to invest in our festivals and our music industry for example and really focus of the artists themselves and bring people to Texas, I think the return on investment will be priceless.”