Fusebox returns as much more than a festival —
August 9, 2020

Fusebox returns as much more than a festival

By Jillian Grekulak and Anna Reardon

The Fusebox Festival returns to Austin for its 12th year April 6-10. This year, the self-described hybrid art festival will feature over 60 performances, installations, talks and events from local, national, and international artists in 24 venues across Austin.

Fusebox has grown over the past decade from a largely underground phenomenon into an internationally significant arts event. For the first time in its history, the event will be held over five days. It will also be entirely free to attend for the third year in a row under an initiative called Free Range Art. The total attendance is expected to reach 25,000 this year.

The line-up for this year’s festival includes artists’ work in all disciplines: theater, dance, music, film, visual art, culinary art, technology, and everything in-between. “It’s among our most diverse to date,” said Ron Berry, Fusebox Festival founder and Artistic Director. “We have worked hard over the past few years to identify exciting artists of color working throughout Austin and all over the globe. We want to build a festival that reflects our city while positioning our city in a global cultural context.”

Fusebox aims to connect Austin with the world by bringing emerging and established artists from Hong Kong, Japan, Angola, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, the UK, Belgium and other far flung places and create opportunities for local artists’ work to be seen by the world. About 20 percent of festival audiences are visitors from outside of Austin, many from out of state.

Among the highlights of Fusebox is a spotlight on dozens of local and Latin American artists. Austin Revolutions Per Minute will feature a series of listening rooms in sites related to Austin’s rich musical history. There will be a Tejano music listening room at the Texas Music Museum on East 11th St., curated by Elizabeth Lopez. Other venues include East Austin’s Victory Grill and South Austin Popular Culture Center with each space themed around a certain genre—country and Tejano, blues and jazz, psychedelic and punk.

Austin artist, Leticia Rodriguez, celebrates old and new Pan American traditions through precise and passionate vocal performances. Rodriguez will be accompanied by Nick Litterski and Janie Cowan in a special Fusebox performance for “Every Song I’ve Ever Written: Band Night.

Living and practicing in Mexico City, Daniela Libertad uses a variety of media to explore the relationship between objects and her body. Libertad’s Estudio Sobre Triángulo questions the definition of a triangle by exploring how it creates relationships with space and the human body in the most subtle and poetic ways.

Los Outsiders are an Austin based collective that develop projects such as video podcasts and group exhibitions to express artistic dialog. “Sew Wasted” stitches together the artistic population of Austin to reflect the absurd, and complex, issues of the modern world at the ESB MACC.

Colombian-born and Argentinian-based artist, Luis Garay, is considered one of the most promising choreographers of his generation. Garay’s “Maneries” is an intense performance featuring a dancer and an electronic musician exploring the body as linguistic material at Salvage Vanguard Theater.

Luis Garay

Students from Austin Soundwaves and East Austin College prep team will have the opportunity to learn about the Mexican free-tailed bat, explore live audio manipulation and the musical potential of circuit manipulation through a series of workshops leading up to Steve Parker’s BAT/MAN. BAT/MAN is an experimental musical work for an ensemble of bats and humans that will be performed near the Mexican free-tailed bat colony at Congress Bridge.

This year, more than 30 national and international presenters and curators from festivals, and arts organizations around the world will come to Austin to experience some of the city’s most innovative artists. Platforms like Fusebox create opportunities for local artists work to tour national and internationally – which is an important element to keep Austin economically viable for working artists. This is a cause the leaders of Fusebox have a passion for and take very seriously.

“Austin’s growth is exciting,” said Brad Carlin, Fusebox Managing Director, “but it is putting tremendous strain on many in our city including artists and those working in the creative sector.” Carlin continued, “In a city full of festivals, we think that liberates Fusebox to approach the notion of a ‘festival’ in a different way.” Fusebox’s different approach to being a festival has allowed the organization to experiment and tackle some large ideas and issues.

Austin Soundwaves

In 2014, Fusebox wanted to increase access and encourage audiences to discover the artists and ideas in the festival, so they made the entire event free to attend. The results have been impressive. Fusebox is generating more revenue in a free festival that has seen 60 percent increases in first-time festival-goers in each of the past two years. Fusebox audiences are attending twice as many events in the free format compared to the traditional model.

Carlin and Berry are quick to note that art is not free. Carlin explained, “It’s also not paid for by the $20 or $25 we would charge for tickets in the past. So lets set ticket prices aside for a moment and have a frank conversation about how we as a community want to support art and culture in our community.”

Fusebox went even further to reimagine festivals. Berry was inspired by centers in Sao Paulo, Brazil dedicated to providing communities access to the arts, athletics and dentistry. The SESK centers are one part arts center, one part YMCA, and one part dental clinic all open and accessible to anyone in the community. “I found the proximity of these things to be very profound,” Berry said, “the statement that sends, that the arts are just as important to a healthy community as exercising or brushing your teeth.” Berry began to imagine what such a place might look like in Austin.

Los Outsiders

Fusebox then decided to take a leading role in the planning and visioning of the 24-acre former East Austin Tank Farm site now called thinkEAST. Fusebox spent two years, and dedicated a large portion of its 2015 festival to a real estate development process that placed the immediate surrounding neighborhood and the arts community at the center. After 300 meetings with more than 2,700 people, 66 events in their Living Charrette, gigabytes of data, stories, and community feedback, they are putting the finishing touches on a Community Vision and Masterplan for the East Austin development located near the intersections of Bolm Rd. and Shady Ln.

What started in a small garage on Springdale Rd. more than a decade ago has grown beyond just a “hybrid art festival” to become an influential hybrid organization at the intersection of art, culture, and community development.

For free reservations and more information about thinkEAST and the full Fusebox Festival line-up visit www.fuseboxfestival.com.


About Merideth Cox 239 Articles
Merideth is a music writer who has covered bands from her hometown in Colorado to London to Bangkok to Shanghai and finally back to Austin. Led Zeppelin changed her life. So did Dolly Parton. You can read her music reviews at smackmadness.com.