Photo courtesy of Art Island and Wevolve Labs

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but this textile was made by a thousand hands. That's gotta be worth something in a place like Burning Man.

In 2023, the pop-up desert city made more headlines than usual; the event was rained out and every dust-covered person, vehicle, artwork, and metaphysical idea was suddenly sunk into mud. As many revelers extended their stays to avoid a grueling trek out, DJ Diplo and comedian Chris Rock — who walked miles and then hitchhiked — were consistently cited as proof that escape was possible.

But the members of Art Island had a 56-foot tapestry to worry about. The Austin-based art troupe, known for its high production value parties with dress codes, fire performers, great DJs, and more, rigged up one of the tallest artworks at a festival already famous for oversized art.

Called "1,000 Hands" in reference to the 500 Austinites who helped dye and tie scraps of fabric in a flowing mosaic, the work became an unmissable part of the landscape. All in one main corridor were The Man (the massive effigy that serves as the visual and ideological focal point of the festival), The Temple (the main shared gathering place), and "1,000 Hands," literally lighting the way to the core of Black Rock City. The work became an orienting feature in a metropolis it's impossible to accurately map.

"Because it was so tall, and so vivid, you could see it from pretty much anywhere if you just looked up," says Art Island founder Maria Gotay, who was also one of the leading co-creators of the artwork. "It was by far the most vivid daytime art piece out there. So it really did stand out against the horizon."

1,000 Hands at Burning ManPhoto courtesy of Art Island and Wevolve Labs

"1,000 Hands" was the recipient of a prestigious Burning Man grant that goes to about 75 projects worldwide each year, by Gotay's estimation. Its other main co-creator, Nic DeBruyne of Wevolve Labs, had designed a previous Honorarium grant recipient — a winged kinetic light sculpture — and the two had worked together on a different, self-funded project. Materials lead Morgan Baker and tech lead Janitha Karunaratne rounded out the materials leadership team.

The vision was to create a visual representation of climate change using the work of many community members, effectively asserting that the global issue needs to be dealt with collaboratively, rather than by acts of individual genius. An image of a sunset fits right in at Burning Man, but there was some symbolism in the way the colors changed from cool purples and blues to a hot red at the top. Visitors to the work could also swing on it to invite engagement. The piece's website explains the following:

"Participants can swing from handles at the base of the tapestry, feeling "the world on their shoulders," while witnessing the ripple effect of their actions displayed on a monumental scale. Only when participants swing in synchronicity will the piece move forward and gain speed and traction."

Similarly, the piece came together not when the image did, but when its makers did. Art Island and Wevolve held weekly work sessions in Lloyd The Warehouse, the main workspace for Burning Flipside, the regional burn held annually in Central Texas. Since it was the smaller festival's off-season, the co-creators were able to leave the giant work set up between sessions.

Community members — many of them frequent collaborators or admirers of Art Island — stopped by to help tie pieces of upcycled and new fabric on, and the team leaders organized community time outside of the warehouse to invite in even more Austinites who may not be in touch with the counterculture at all.

"1,000 Hands" made appearances at community spaces like museums, and everyone from burners to children made contributions. Even partiers who never saw the work supported it via ticket sales for a Burning Man-themed party called "In Dust We Trust," at an eclectic East Austin venue.

1,000 Hands on Burning Man playaPhoto by Mark Fromson

"We kind of formed a community while creating the piece with the 500 people that worked on it," says Gotay. "We had these work nights where we saw the same volunteers coming back, and they wanted to get involved in the new direction or the new color we're working with — they were really invested in seeing the piece grow, and we got invested in our friendships with all these folks that we didn't know before."

On The Playa, basically the grounds of Black Rock City, wanderers became part of the collaborative community by interacting with the piece. Sometimes the creative team would stop by to check on the work and find a gathering of strangers. There were weddings and DJ sets, including a performance by Italian DJ Deborah De Luca.

Since the piece was designed to bear hanging people and leave no trace in the desert, it held up well to the elements. It did not touch the ground, so the rain actually cleaned it and no mud was left on the fabric. It even got packed up on schedule. The team needs to make a few repairs, but overall the piece remains intact. It will travel to some upcoming festivals, especially during the upcoming eclipse in October, and then the team hopes that media attention will find it a permanent home.

Although nearly anyone could relate to the climate change angle (given that their current beliefs allow it, anyway), Gotay sees a distinctly Austin spirit in the work.

"I feel like only in Austin would this ever happen so casually," she says. "We just took over Morgan's backyard ... banging out tie dye pretty much all summer. So that's one element. And ... I've just found that Austin is the most open and welcoming community to people in the arts. And there's so many folks here that want to be a part of something."

1,000 Hands Burning Man(Pictured: Co-creator Nic DeBruyne admiring his work.)Photo courtesy of Art Island and Wevolve Labs

More information about "1,000 Hands" is available at 1000handsart.com. Follow the next steps for the project and see more angles on Instagram.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Esquire's praise for top Austin Mexican restaurant leads this week's top 5 most-read headlines

hot headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From our best chefs to our neighbors' strong tourist pulls, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Austin's new favorite Mexican restaurant scores coveted spot on Esquire's Best New Restaurants list. Este was the only Texas restaurant on the main list.

2. 'The twinkliest town in Texas' and 6 other Hill Country locales become Christmas wonderlands. Those warm fuzzies aren't always easy to find amongst Austin's seasonal glitz — they're a mall-town affair.

3. Austin sparkles and shines as the No. 1 most festive city in the U.S. for 2023. Thumbtack specifically focuses on home holiday projects, but Austinites can glean inspiration from the city's many festive displays.

4. Austin is among the 20 most 'house rich' cities in U.S., report says. The study found that 44.70 percent of all housing in Austin is owner-occupied. The median home value of a home in the city was $593,000.

5. This Texas city is among the 50 best places to travel in 2024, says Travel + Leisure. Fort Worth was the only Texas city to make Travel + Leisure's prestigious list, and one of just a handful of U.S. cities.

A new daiquiri bar and authentic spicy ramen top Austin's 11 tastiest bites of food news

News you can eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings and closings

Despite Austin's proximity to the Gulf Coast and the Louisiana Bayou, we don't have too many restaurants replicating the area's cuisine. A new bar and grill called Austin's Very Own Saltt is adding to the growing niche, highlighting seafood and daiquiris — popular in New Orleans for how easy they are to make and dispense to loaded, novelty-seeking tourists on a hot day. Along with seven or more variations on the sugary frozen drinks, expect classics like Cajun butterfly shrimp, fried catfish, and shrimp fried rice as a side. Surprisingly, this bar won't entertain downtown day drinkers, but a milder crowd up north (2525 W. Anderson Ln.). It opens December 2 at 5 pm.

Austinites likely need no introduction to Shake Shack, the fast food burger joint with surprisingly upscale culinary initiatives. A new location in Cedar Park (1905 E. Whitestone Blvd.) is the first in the area, and it's wooing new customers with several opening day offers. On December 5, guests will receive branded holiday ornaments, and Shake Shack will donate $1 for every sandwich sold to Texas Humane Heroes, a pet shelter with an adoption center in Leander. Hours are 11 am to 10 pm Sunday through Thursday, and 11 am to 11 pm Friday through Saturday.

ICYMI: One of the most famous barbecue joints near Austin, the Salt Lick BBQ, offered big news this week: It's opening its third full-scale location. This one will be in Fredericksburg, opening sometime in 2025 if everything goes according to plan. Another famous restaurant with more upscale international credentials, Quince, also shared photos of its beautiful plates and views after a very quiet soft opening of its Lake Austin location. If you've been reading for a while, you may recognize a few other restaurants that opened this week: Mutts Canine Cantina,El Alma Cafe y Cantina, and a Milk Bar pop-up.

Other news and notes

Many Austinites swear by Jinya Ramen, which originated in Tokyo and now commands a cult following here, in Austin. On December 1, it brings back its "fan-favorite" Red Garnet bowl, featuring "thick noodles," vegan broth, a spicy garlic sauce, pork chasu, green onion, kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), onion, and spinach. It'll be on menus until February 29, 2024. New to the United States locations is also the Curry Nikuman bun with pork soboro (ground pork) and a curry dipping sauce.

Speaking of local favorites, Home Slice is also bringing back a special menu item: a vodka pie (not sold by the slice), featuring a cream sauce made with Tito's Handmade Vodka and fresh mozzarella. The pies, two new natural wines, and a prize drawing will all raise funds for Southern Smoke in Houston, and Foundation Communities in Austin. One lucky winner will win free pizza for a year; Tickets ($10, or 3 for $25) are available for purchase in-store until December 24.

Widely recognized as one of Austin's best new-ish restaurants, Canje charms guests with Caribbean flavors — especially as Austinites crave a little tropical feeling during winter months. On December 3, the restaurant is inviting anyone to stop by for a free Trinidadian dance party with a DJ and Trinidadian street food. Details are sparse, but we don't need much else to be convinced it'll be worth a visit. The party goes from 5 pm to midnight. RSVP on Eventbrite.

Aspiring architects who don't have the budget to experiment on Austin land can try on gingerbread houses first, at beautiful South Lamar restaurant Eberly. Pastry chef Raven Breitfeller will guide visitors through the delicate process, but things won't be too serious as the seasonal cocktails and passed apps start rolling in. Tickets ($90) include all materials, one cocktail, and snacks, and are available via Resy.

Photos with Santa, holiday hotel deals, and 8 more Texas travel tidbits for December


It's the most wonderful time of year for Texans to travel and spend quality time with family. Need help deciding where to take a quick vacation, road trip, or staycation? Here are 10 events, special celebrations, and hotel happenings to help plan a getaway in December.

In the Hill Country

Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a special event December 8-10. Throughout the weekend, the winery will offer an anniversary bundle featuring three special wines for $99 plus tax. On Saturday, December 9, visitors can stop by to enjoy wine and cake while supplies last. Reservations are required for tastings, and can be made online via Tock or by emailing tasting@pedernalescellars.com.

From Jingle Bell Runs to photos with Cowboy Kringle, the Christmas season is in full swing in Gruene. There are festive holiday happenings during every weekend in December, starting with the 22nd annual Gruene Pony Express Ride, the Gruene Town Lighting, and the Christmas Market Days on Saturday, December 2. And if swing dancing is on the list of resolutions for 2024, Texans can get a head start by visiting Gruene Hall on December 19 and 26 to learn easy, fun moves for beginners. Swing dancing lessons are $10 per person, but many other family-friendly events in Gruene are free to the public.

There's plenty of time to make your way down to Thompson San Antonio – Riverwalk for a unique 12 Days of Christmas event that runs December 12-23. Activities include complimentary mini-massages from the Thompson Spa's expert therapists on December 13, a must-know mixology class on December 17, and a live jazz performance on December 21. These events are free, and visitors can register to participate online via the website.

Across North Texas

In its first holiday season, the new Omni PGA Frisco Resort is offering a special "Home On the Range for the Holidays" package that includes movie nights, holiday games and crafts, s'mores, and a Santa meet-and-greet. Valet parking, early check-in and check-out, and weekend breakfast are included. Nightly rates for the holiday package (offered through December 23) begin at $426. For some extra holiday wonderment, guests can unwrap up to 20 percent off their stay at the resort with the Ticket to Wonder package in partnership with Dallas chocolatier Kate Weiser.

In the Houston-Galveston area

The Dickens on the Strand Festival in Galveston received quite a gift for its 50th anniversary: official recognition from the United Kingdom’s Parliament. The annual event immerses visitors in the world of Charles Dickens' larger-than-life characters in 19th-century England. From December 1-3, the family-friendly festival will include fun parades, entertainment on four different stages, and costumed vendors selling Victorian-inspired crafts, clothing, jewelry, and more. Admission is $25 for adults, $18 for children aged 7-12, and free for children aged 6 and under. Tickets can purchased via Eventbrite.

And if you're looking for a swanky place to stay during the festival weekend (or any weekend, for that matter), Gavleston's newly-opened Hotel Lucine (formerly the Treasure Isle Motel) is a brand-new contender. CultureMap's Eric Sandler shared his first impressions of the hotel and all of its luxe amenities, including its rooftop bar, lobby bar and restaurant, and The Fancy – a "fine-ish" dining restaurant currently serving dinner. The hotel’s owners aimed to transform the two-story property into a "modern experience designed to appeal to gen x’ers and millennials." Nightly rates at Hotel Lucine begin at $155 in December.

The C. Baldwin Hotel in downtown Houston is enticing hotel guests (and any visitors who want to make merry) with 12 Days of Cocktails, featuring a rotating specialty cocktail menu available at the hotel's Lobby Bar and Rosalie Italian Soul. Seasonal offerings include Apple Cider Old Fashioned, Pumpkin Spice Martini, Winter Spritz, and more. Plus, a special holiday market in partnership with Houston's Southern Kindness Gallery will feature 30 local artisans, Saturday, December 9. More information can be found online.

At home in Austin

On Christmas Eve, families staying at Austin's Commodore Perry Estate can enjoy milk and cookies while children write their letters to Santa, then feast on a special Christmas Eve prime rib dinner and participate in holiday cookie decorating. On Christmas Day, the resort will have a breakfast display of homemade pastries and more. A special yuletide feast prepared by Chef Bradley and Chef Susana will be available all day, paired with holiday wines curated by the estate's sommelier. Rates at Commodore Perry Estate begin at $454 per night in December.

Santa is making special appearances throughout Texas to learn what children want for Christmas, and at the Barton Creek Square, families will be able to grab a photo with Mr. Claus throughout the month. On December 5 and 12, families can don their most festive holiday pajamas for a Pajama Day photo op with Santa. Visitors also can bring their furry friends for special pet photo sessions on December 10, 6:30-8:30 pm. Reservations are encouraged, and can be made via whereissanta.com.

The Hyatt Centric Congress Avenue Austin has launched its own deluxe holiday deal for guests through January 3: the Miracle on Congress Avenue package. Guests can use the promo code "WINTER" when booking a stay at the hotel's Artist's Residence and enjoy the comforts of a beautifully decorated holiday-themed penthouse suite on the 31st floor, a $100 food and beverage credit that can be used at the famed Luminaire restaurant or Le Bis rooftop terrace bar, and a complimentary holiday mini bar. Rates for the Miracle on Congress Avenue package begin at $747 per night.