Top 12 cultural things to do in Austin this year
On any given day there are literally hundreds of tempting things happening in Austin. From restaurant openings to live music, it's all here — but how do you up your cultural cred? Instead of making the tired old resolutions, why not check out some of Austin's most interesting cultural events and organizations? Explore one a month — you never know who you might meet or what you might learn.
Austin Chamber Music Center
Founded by Felicity Coltman in 1981 as a summer music workshop, the Austin Chamber Music Center has grown and expanded its performance repertoire to include outreach concerts, intimate house concerts, and a wonderful summer music festival.
Highly recommended:Black Composers Concert celebrating the contributions of African-American composers. Free; February 11-12.
Austin Classical Guitar Society
Yes Austin is the live music capital of the world, but few people know that we have one of the premier classical guitar organizations in the world too. Avail yourself to world renowned performers as you learn about classical guitar and flamenco music. Concert tickets start at only $8.
Highly recommended: Thibaut Garcia on January 14 at AISD Performing Arts Center.
Austin Public Library Mayor’s Book Club
The Mayor’s Book Club is an annual citywide reading campaign that invites all Austinites to read the selection and participate in a series of programs focused on the book. Programs include workshops, discussions, readings, and Q&A sessions with the author. The 2017 selection will be announced in early 2017. Previous selections have included A Friend of Mr. Lincoln by Stephen Harrigan and Monday, Monday by Elizabeth Crook. For bibliophiles, the resources and events of the Austin Public Library system are free and vast.
This is an exclusive group of music patrons founded to provide grants to local Austin musicians and ultimately provide a sustainable endowment for that purpose. The membership is pricey at $1,500 a year, but in return you get admission to exclusive intimate performances, including a lavish Black Ball gala concert held at each year. It’s a great way to be on the cutting edge of the Austin music scene while doing good in the process.
Blanton Museum of Art
The Blanton is one of the largest university art museums in the country, with an impressive collection of over 1,800 pieces. The Blanton is nice for first date strolling, BScene events are great people-watching and meeting gatherings, and the tours and lectures are always interesting and enlightening. Admission is free on Thursdays.
Highly recommended: See Warhol by the Book before it closes January 29.
Butler School of Music
Few people know about this underutilized resource for amazing performances at the University of Texas at Austin. The school not only hosts visiting artists, but the students and faculty also perform throughout the year. Many performances and lectures are free, and there's a very reasonable season subscription option as well. The 2017 schedule includes ensemble performances, vocal performances, solo performances, the annual spring jazz festival, and the premiere of a new symphony composed by Adam Schoenberg.
Highly recommended:UT Jazz Orchestra with renowned jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut on April 8 at Bates Recital Hall.
Capital Area Statues
CAST is a nonprofit which was begun by a small group of Austin cultural notables, including Pulitzer prize winner Larry Wright, filmmaker Elizabeth Avellan, musician Marcia Ball, and writer Stephen Harrigan in an effort to "celebrate the history and culture of Austin and Texas through public sculptures." Plan a field trip to see the sculptures located throughout the city and learn about the figures and the history behind each one in the process. Statues include Willie Nelson on Second Street, Angelina Eberly on Congress Avenue, and Philosopher’s Rock outside Barton Springs pool.
Harry Ransom Center
With more than 36 million literary manuscripts, 1 million rare books, 5 million photographs, and 100,000 works of art, the archives of the Harry Ransom Center located on the UT campus are a veritable treasure trove for literati and the public alike. One of the most notable items in the collection is an original copy of the Gutenberg Bible, which is on permanent display. The Ransom Center is always free and open to the public. Members can also enjoy lectures, book groups, and tours, as well as special events.
Highly recommended: Stories To Tell: Selections From the Harry Ransom Center running February 6 through July 16.
LBJ Presidential Library
If you are a history buff, this is the place for you, and there are literally dozens of ways to explore the library, its collections, and events. In addition to the permanent collection various exhibits are curated throughout the year. Membership groups include Friends of the Library and Future Forum, each of which host speakers and events throughout the year.
Highly recommended: An Evening With Cokie Roberts on February 28.
Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Project
If you are up for a few short road trips there are architectural treasures to behold a short drive from Austin. Under the leadership of former Governor George W. Bush, the Texas Historical Commission set out to save, restore, and preserve Texas County Courthouses and, to date, this award-winning program has completed restoration on 63 courthouses. Nearby notable county courthouses: Comal County in New Braunfels, built in 1898; Kendall County in Boerne, built in 1870; Lampasas County in Lampasas, built in 1884; and Williamson County in Georgetown, built in 1912.
Texas State Cemetery
This may seem a little quirky, but what a great place to up your knowledge of the legendary Texans who have made the state what it is today. The resting place for governors, senators, legislators, authors, judges, and many others, the cemetery was established in 1851 and restored by the efforts of Lt. Governor Bob Bullock in 1997. Guided tours are available by appointment. Notables buried there include Stephen F. Austin, Ann Richards, and Barbara Jordan, 15 signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, Texas Rangers, authors Frank Dobie and James Michener, as well as numerous Medal of Honor recipients.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum
Just off Barton Springs Road near Zilker Park lies a little piece of heaven populated with beautiful sculptures from a master craftsman who chose to make Austin his home. Created in 1991 to house sculptures given to the city by Charles Umlauf, it is one of the most serene and beautiful places in the city. Romantic and in tune with its environment, this is an oasis that you will not soon forget. The gardens can also be rented for special events and weddings.