Photo courtesy of Defend the Dream

There’s much to discover at the library, and now Austin Independent School District kids are getting a specially dedicated space, thanks to the Defend the Dream Foundation.

Derrick Johnson, a former Texas Longhorn who played with the Kansas City Chiefs and garnered prestige in both positions, started Defend the Dream in 2012 to connect low-income and inner city youths with better resources and opportunities. He moved back to Austin in 2019, and committed to supporting the nonprofit even further.

On September 15, the foundation will present Austin’s first Discovery Den to Oak Springs Elementary School in East Austin near Airport Boulevard. Defend the Dream has been installing Discovery Dens in other schools for years, transforming school library spaces into well-stocked, football-themed reading areas with bright colors and lots of seating.

The low-tech, low-convolution goal is to create a comfortable and engaging space to encourage reading. In this case, it’s nearly $58,000 of donations for a “multi-functional space,” with donated furniture, bookshelves, and new flooring. In addition to a more exciting atmosphere, this donation covers more than 1,000 new books, selected for diversity, in an effort to modernize the current library selection.

In April of 2022, Defend the Dream announced a partnership with Horns with Heart, another nonprofit that uses the social and media pull of University of Texas student-athletes to promote community outreach and charity. The latter organization will help build the dens and assign reading ambassadors to keep up the activity.

“When I moved back to Austin a few years ago, I wanted to continue my work with Defend the Dream and help those in need be able to reach their full potential,” said Johnson in the April press release. “Partnering with an organization that supports my Alma Mater, UT, was a no brainer. Horns With Heart really pinpoints the heart of what I believe in - people helping others in their own community.”

Defend the Dream will continue with similar projects across the district after the Oak Springs Discovery Den is handed off on September 15, from 9 am to 10 am. More information about Defend the Dream is available at derrickjohnsonfoundation.org.

Courtesy of Texas Book Festival

Texas Book Festival uncovers full literary lineup for 2022 event

On the books

With less than two months before the Texas Book Festival makes its fully in-person return this fall, the anticipation is building like your favorite thriller novel. After announcing the keynotes earlier this summer (including Omar Epps, Angie Cruz, Sandra Brown, David George Haskell, Michaela Goade, and more), the TBF released its full author lineup on Wednesday, September 7.

Taking place on November 5 and 6, the 27th annual Texas Book Festival will feature nearly 300 national and Texas authors, including debut and bestselling writers, celebrated chefs, and more. Scattered along Austin's iconic Congress Avenue and surrounding the State Capitol, the event is a unique opportunity for attendees to both connect with favorite authors and meet new stars of the literary world.

As always, this year's lineup stretches across all genres, from cookbooks to thrillers and everything in between. Newly announced authors include Top Chef finalist Chris Scott and James Beard Award recipient Vishwesh Bhatt, University of Texas at Austin's own H.W. Brands, New York Times bestselling author Xochitl Gonzalez, and many, many more.

A few new highlights to add to the radar include:

  • Gabino Iglesias, award-winning author, will present The Devil Takes You Home, a genre-defying thriller about a father desperate to salvage what's left of his family — even if it means a descent into violence.
  • Culinary legend and 16-time James Beard Award recipient Jacque Pépin will present Jacques Pépin Art of the Chicken, chock-full of recipes, humorous stories, and his own paintings.
  • Grammy-nominated Margo Price will debut her memoir, Maybe We’ll Make It, a revealing look at loss, motherhood, and the search for artistic freedom.

While the festival always attracts talent from across the country, the event also showcases the incredible homegrown talent from right here in the Lone Star State. Texas authors featured at this year’s festival include Robert Draper, Simran Jeet Singh, LaToya Watkins, Will Hurd, Leon and Tiffany Chen, May Cobb, Alex Kiester, Katherine McGee, Amanda Eyre Ward, Amy Kim Kibuishi, Lise Olsen, Evan Griffith, Natalia Sylvester, and (you guessed it) many more.

Don't leave the kids behind, either! Young adult and children's programming will be as robust as ever, featuring numerous YA and children’s book authors such as Maggie Stiefvater, Aiden Thomas, Natalia Sylvester, R. M. Romero, Carole Boston Weatherford, Michaela Goade, David Bowles, David Levithan, and Mac Barnett.

"We are eager to present authors and exhibitors in person again, for the biggest Texas Book Festival since 2019,” says TBF Literary Director Matthew Patin in a release. “An incredible slate of debut, emerging, and established literary talent from across the state and nationwide will be in Austin this November. And we’re looking forward to connecting audiences with writers they’ve long been fans of, and with those they’ll be lifelong fans of soon.”

For a full list of 2022 authors and to learn more about each one (read: to memorize their photos so you can spot them in the inevitably crowded festival atmosphere), head to the Texas Book Festival website.

Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

Austin's Harry Ransom Center debuts fall exhibit with dazzling director's reception

Portrait of the Artist

Members, donors, and friends of The Harry Ransom Center gathered on August 27 for a first look at the museum's fall exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson. Featuring more than 150 immersive photographic portraits of some of the leading literary figures of our time, the exhibition is drawn from Wilson’s latest book, The Writers: Portraits (Yale University Press, 2022).

Wilson has published six books of photographs and text, including Avedon at Work, Grit and Glory, That Day: Picture in the American West, and From Rodin to Plensa. Her photographs have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker,Vanity Fair, and London's Sunday Times Magazine, among others.

Celebrating the exhibition opening on August 27, visitors browsed the artist's stunning photographic portraits of renowned authors such as Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Zadie Smith, Tom Stoppard, Texas' own Larry McMurtry, Gabriel García Márquez, and many more. The power of each portrait is in its intimacy, capturing each writer in their personal setting — Smith in her kitchen, for example, or McMurtry sipping from a glass on his patio, a tall cactus in the background. The papers of many of the writers portrayed are collected at the Ransom Center.

At the director's reception, guests enjoyed light bites and custom cocktails before Harry Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss gave opening remarks. Enniss also introduced Laura Wilson, who then signed copies of her book, which contains hundreds of additional portraits.

The exhibit will be on display through January 1, 2023, and copies of The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilsonare available for purchase at the Ransom Center gift shop. Additionally, Austinites will get a chance to celebrate the exhibit with actors Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, and Andrew Wilson on Saturday, September 24. In honor of their mom, the brothers will host a ticketed afterparty following the Celebration of Film Gala on the same evening.

Tickets to the Afterparty are $100, or are included with the purchase of a ticket to the gala, where Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep will help celebrate the Center's 65th anniversary. The star-studded evening marks a major milestone for the center and will help further its mission to deepen the understanding and appreciation of literature, photography, film, art, and the performing arts.

The exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson will be on view at the Ransom Center through January 1, 2023.

Laura Wilson HRC
Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center
The exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson will be on view at the Ransom Center through January 1, 2023.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Hollywood legend Meryl Streep joins UT Austin museum for 65th anniversary gala

"That's All"

When the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) first announced its upcoming 65th anniversary gala back in June, they promised a "star-studded" evening with Robert De Niro as the evening's special guest. As if that is not star-studded enough, the Hollywood heavyweight will be joined by yet another screen legend, Meryl Streep, for what is sure to be a truly unforgettable evening.

In a release on August 29, the museum on campus at the University of Texas at Austin announced the Academy Award-winning actress will join the event to share some words about De Niro. Esteemed film critic and historian Leonard Maltin will also attend, acting as master of ceremonies.

Taking place at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center on September 24, "A Celebration of Film" will support preservation and access to historical film materials archived at HRC. The event will mark the museum's 65th anniversary while honoring De Niro's ongoing support with a special endowment.

De Niro's archive, which is housed at HRC, will be featured in a new exhibition examining his early years at the American Workshop, in acting instructor Stella Adler’s classes, and in plays and films that marked his initial successes and learning experiences. De Niro first donated his archive to the HRC in 2006, including annotated screenplays, correspondence, production records, film stills and behind-the-scenes photographs, posters and publicity materials, props, costumes, videotapes, and motion picture film.

The HRC’s extensive film collection tells the stories of Hollywood producers, directors, writers, and actors from the silent era and Golden Age of Hollywood through the rise of independent filmmakers and into the age of blockbusters and the new millennium.

The gala supports the museum's mission to preserve and provide access to historical film materials. In an effort to expand access to this unique celebration, the HRC will also hold its first-ever ticketed after party, immediately following the gala.

Featuring cocktails, nibbles, and live music, tickets for the event are $100 and provide an accessible option for Austin film fans to support the HRC. Actors and native Texans Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, and Andrew Wilson will be honorary event co-hosts in tribute to their mother, whose work is featured in the HRC's fall exhibition, “The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson," which opened on August 27.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit hrc.utexas.edu/gala for the gala and hrc.utexas.edu/afterparty/ for the Post-Production Afterparty.

Meryl Streep will join Robert De Niro at a gala to mark the Harry Ransom Center's 65th anniversary.

Meryl Streep
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe
Meryl Streep will join Robert De Niro at a gala to mark the Harry Ransom Center's 65th anniversary.
Photo by Spencer Selvidge

Stunning Skyspace on UT Austin campus reopens with immersive programming

Sky's the Limit

One of Austin's favorite art installations is back and better. After a brief summer closure, James Turrell's Skyspace, The Color Inside, is slated to reopen on Monday, August 22.

Welcoming more than 75,000 people each year, The Color Inside is a freestanding, naked-eye observatory located on The University of Texas at Austin campus. The pre-programmed light sequence fills the space with brilliant washes of color at each sunrise and sunset, causing the sky to appear in unimaginable hues.

Part of Landmarks, the public art program at the University of Texas at Austin, the installation is located at the William C. Powers Student Activity Center. With a limited summer schedule at the activity center, the installation — along with the Landmarks companion program, Songs in the Skyspace — had to close temporarily. Songs in the Skyspace will likewise resume, kicking off with a performance by violinist Shawn LeSure on August 28.

The monthly series fills the beautiful space with music from across genres, representing a diverse mix of voices and instruments. Along with LeSure, this season’s lineup will feature a capella group Voices of Afrika, singer/songwriter Jelly Ellington, and a newly commissioned work from celebrated composer Nathan Felix.

And in equally exciting news, the space will welcome all new, wellness-focused programming starting in November. Led by sound and energy healer, Sonic Starchild, Wellness Wednesdays will feature sound bath meditations inside the Skyspace with singing bowls, chimes, and gongs. The immersive experiences will run select Wednesdays in November during the sunset light sequence.

A full list of Skyspace programming for 2022-2023 is below:

Songs in the Skyspace
August 28: Shawn LeSure
September 18: Voices of Afrika
October 16: Jelly Ellington
February 19, 2023: Nathan Felix

Wellness Wednesdays with Sonic Starchild
November 2: Sound Bath Meditation
November 9: Sound Bath Meditation
November 16: Sound Bath Meditation
November 30: Sound Bath Meditation

Supported by Austin’s independent classical station, KMFA 89.5, Skyspace and its companion programming is free and open to all, but reservations are required. Visitors may book tickets online at turrell.utexas.edu.

Photo courtesy of KUT

Austin mourns the passing of iconic radio personality John Aielli

Chosen from the Best

An Austin icon has passed away. Longtime KUT and KUTX radio personality John Aielli died on Sunday, July 31 at the age of 76.

“John was an Austin treasure and an indelible part of so many lives here in Austin. His unique perspective on the world made being with John a joy,” said KUTX 98.9 program director Matt Reilly in a releases. “Our lives are less interesting with him gone. God speed, we love you John, and we’ll remember you always with a smile on our faces.”

Aielli boasted more than half a century on the air, starting out at KUT 90.5 in September 1966. His first role was a part-time announcer between classical pieces, but his extensive knowledge of classic music soon led to him programming the music himself. Within just four years, he had his own time slot, “Eklektikos,” inspired by the Greek word eklektos, which means "chosen from the best."

The station marked Aielli’s 50th anniversary on the air with year-long festivities in 2016, including a community concert and a special John Aielli bobble head thank-you gift during membership drives. During the celebration, Aielli said, “I’m curious by nature. I enjoy talking to people and observing things about life, so radio is a wonderful medium to be in. And to be the guy that gets to talk behind the microphone – it’s a privilege and a challenge.”

Aielli was the inspiration behind a popular hashtag #ShitJohnAielliSays, which collected his famous one-liners, as well as a tribute Twitter handle @ShitJohnAielliSays.

Both “Eklektikos” and Aielli won 15 “Best of” awards from Austin Chronicle since 1990. Over the years, Aielli's interviews included a veritable hall of fame of musicians, writers, actors, and local community leaders, including Joan Baez, Rufus Wainwright, soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Michael Chabon, Alan Furst, Dan Rather, Matthew McConaughey, and yoga master Swami Satchidananda.

Until 2013, KUT was a dual service, programming both news and music, spinning tunes through KUTX 98.9. For more than 30 years, Aielli led KUT and KUTX's biggest public event, the annual Holiday Sing Along, conducting huge crowds in singing songs of the season.

"He was such a joy to work with, and so important to what the stations have become," KUT and KUTX general manager Debbie Hiott said in a message to staff.

Listeners are invited to share their memories of Aielli on KUTX's social media channels.

John Aielli passed away on July 31, 2022.

John Aielli radio DJ KUT CD music library
Photo courtesy of KUT
John Aielli passed away on July 31, 2022.
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Austin Public invites viewers to step into the studio to celebrate 50 years of public television

Austin On-screen

Public television may call to mind images of children's shows and documentaries, but the format has lots more to offer — especially if staying in touch with local culture is a priority. Austin has a strong connection to the medium, as the city with the longest continually running public access station in the country, and now it’s celebrating 50 years by naming the month of June Austin Public Television Month.

A public event on June 25 will invite viewers to stop by the Public Access Television Studio (1143 Northwestern Avenue) from noon to 4 for an open house. Visitors can explore, take interactive tours, and mingle with complimentary refreshments by the Austin Film Society (AFS), which operates the 20-acre production facility on behalf of the City of Austin.

Channel 10 (formerly Austin Community Television, or ACTV; not to be confused with KLRU, or Austin PBS) can trace those 50 years back to Mt. Larson, in Westlake, where some University of Texas students “[carried] their video production equipment on their shoulders,” according to a release. With the help of community activists and members of the Texas Commission on the Arts, they started the city’s first broadcast.

This was about more than entertaining Austinites — although Austin Public has done plenty of that over its decades. It was, and still is, a platform for locals to get messages out that likely won’t be picked up by major private networks. (Think of Austin’s wacky KOOP 91.7 FM on the radio today.)

“When community television ... launched, it was the only free-speech outlet available for residents that provided a voice for traditionally underrepresented groups and perspectives unavailable within mainstream media,” said Rondella Hawkins, the City of Austin’s Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs Officer.

“The City of Austin has continued its commitment to preserve and support the access TV channels," Hawkins continued, "to distribute the content created by the local community at the studio facility, using the state-of-the-art video production equipment.”

And even though these programs are for their viewers, they represent an irreplaceable opportunity for the people who work on them to start or continue their craft. “Leveraging these resources,” continued Hawkins, “it’s through our partnership with Austin Public to provide the training and the pathways for promising careers in the creative industry.”

Austin Public runs a paid workforce development program called Creative Careers, and broadcasts highlights on its producers. The station's many programs include lots of hosting opportunities, like on The Gene and Dave Show, which highlights the disabled experience with comedy, and in nerd-culture conversations curated by Kaiju Labs Media.

Austinites have Channel 10 to thank for attracting and developing talent like film director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused), who founded AFS, and Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Sin City). Now in addition to that main channel, Austin Public also runs Channels 11 (for Christian programming) and 16 (for music programming).

“The history of Public Access in Austin is intrinsically tied to the growth and success of the City’s creative sector, and public access remains vital to the culturally focused expressions of a diverse city," said AFS CEO Rebecca Campbell.

Register for the free open house at at Austin Public at austinfilm.org.

Austin has the 3rd most active real estate market in the U.S. within the last decade

red-hot ATX

A new report has discovered Texas cities hold the top five most active real estate markets in the country, with Austin landing in third place. The study by storage marketplace StorageCafe reflects the city's resiliency over the last decade after a recent reported plummet in Austin's quality of life.

Austin had the third highest number of single-family home permits between 2013 and 2022, totaling 37,000 units. At the same time, the city also permitted over 98,700 new multi-family/apartment units. The massive influx of housing ultimately adds up to an impressive national surge.

On the industrial end, the Texas Capital also took the No. 3 spot in the country for the most square feet of new industrial space construction. Nearly 25 million square feet of new office space was erected in the last decade, further solidifying the city's standing as a top destination for business.

Outshining Austin in the list of real estate growth is Houston(No. 1), with 55,600 single-family homes permitted between 2013 and 2022, and nearly 90,000 multi-family units. San Antonio (No. 2) also outranked Austin with 34,000 single-family units and 8,500 new multi-family units.

The real estate markets in Fort Worth and Dallas respectively round out the top five.

The cities that complete the top 10 include:

  • No. 6 – Phoenix, Arizona
  • No. 7 – Jacksonville, Florida
  • No. 8 – Las Vegas, Nevada
  • No. 9 – Denver, Colorado
  • No. 10 – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The full report can be found on storagecafe.com.

Austinites can now rent pickleball and tennis courts around the city


Pickleball and tennis lovers are getting more access to underutilized courts in Austin. Swimply, an online provider that lets homeowners rent out their private pools by the hour, has now expanded their services to include sport courts.

"After disrupting the $15B private pool industry, other backyard spaces for rent was a logical next step," Swimply said in a press release. "Pickleball is a phenomenon and there aren't enough courts to meet demand ...Tennis, likewise, has historically been an exclusive leisure activity where people pay upwards of $100 an hour at private clubs for court time."

In addition to tennis and pickleball, basketball courts will also be listed for rent on the site, beginning at $25 an hour. There are nearly 200 total spaces listed in Austin, and over 300 courts available across their other popular markets in Houston, New York, and Los Angeles. Expansion is currently underway for their remaining markets around the nation by the end of the summer season.

Swimply founder and CEO Bunim Laskin said this new launch is a "game changer" for communities whose members want greater accessibility to recreational spaces.

"We're excited to offer this new opportunity for families and friends to have fun, exercise, and connect with each other in a safe, affordable, and convenient way," Laskin said. "Our mission has always been about democratizing access to exclusive spaces and creating positive social impact, and we believe that court rentals are a natural extension of that vision."

The service expansion also serves to improve access for those in low-income or marginalized communities, after a recent Trust for Public Land study said 100 million Americans can't access a park within a 10-minute walk from their homes.

Swimply is currently looking into expanding their recreational offerings to include backyards for events, music studios, and more.