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SXSW: The Collision of Design, Biology and Tech

Paola Antonelli of MoMA, speaking at SXSW 2015. (user @sachiyop on Instagram)

Paola Antonelli of MoMA, speaking at SXSW 2015. (user @sachiyop on Instagram)

KERA’s Art&Seek is covering the 2015 South by Southwest Conference in Austin. Read more coverage from this and previous years in the SXSW archive.

Picture a work of sculpture, conceived and planned by artists but realized by thousands of insects working in tandem with a robot.

Or perhaps a pile of bricks made from crops and fungi, which are then combined to build durable, ecologically sustainable and aesthetically important structures.

These and other experiments have been realized in the last couple of years through a combination of emerging technology and boundary-pushing art, happening in studios and labs across the globe – and they were highlighted on the first day of SXSW 2015 as part of a keynote on new trends in modern design.

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PHOTOS: ‘Back To The Music,’ The Undead 35 Denton

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Categorized Under: Local Events, Music

On Friday the 13th, 35 Denton rose from its shallow grave and returned to Downtown Denton. We have pictures to prove it.

The independent three-day music festival returned yesterday evening to venues near East Hickory and East Oak Streets after a yearlong moratorium and continues through Sunday evening.

Life for 35 Denton began in 2005, in the form of annual South by Southwest house show “Nx35: The Afternoon Party of the Other, Smaller, Music Town in Texas,” which showcased Denton bands. Eventually it transferred to Denton, where it grew into the city’s own darling indie fest, the kid sister of South by Southwest.

Its name changed – Nx35 to 35 Conferette to 35 Denton, and it took place right before the music portion of the older, wiser Austin hoorah. The festival brought national artists such as Big Boi, The Flaming Lips, Solange, Reggie Watts, Sleep and Dr. Dog to the Little D. In turn, crowds were drawn from North Texas as well as from out-of-state to see the Denton talent.

In 2013, 35 Denton had its “Best Fest Ever Fest” and shortly after, organizers announced the festival was takign a break. Core staff members wanted to pursue new endeavors and sponsors dropped out.

It is the essence of 35 Denton’s original mission to emphasize local, specifically Denton-based, musicians. Of the 250 acts in this year’s lineup, 94 are from Denton and 180 are from Texas.

“Back to the Music,” is the theme and this year’s 35 D creature has a Denton-saturated heart with limbs of new and remaining core staff pieced together by a slew of recently developed venues (i.e. Harvest House—which had its grand opening with the kickoff of the festival— and Dan’s Silverleaf’s new patio, which turned it into a two-staged venue).

It’s only appropriate the main attraction is The Zombies, being revived from its heyday in the 60s.

Hits you probably know but may have no idea were from this British rock band include “Time of the Season” and “She’s Not There.”

General Admission into 35 Denton is $65, while day passes are $35 and can be bought here. Art&Seek will follow the tale of the festival all weekend. Tune in Monday for the recap.


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SXSW: Ava DuVernay, Motivational Speaker

Photo: Stephen Becker

Photo: Stephen Becker

AUSTIN – Ava DuVernay made it to town at 1 o’clock this morning. In 10 hours, she’d be giving the SXSW film keynote address. And she hadn’t written a word.

Which is understandable – she’s in the middle of developing a pair of television series and only just recently stepped off the Selma rollercoaster.

So credit today’s moving, motivating keynote to the focusing powers of deadline.

DuVernay told a crowd of a few hundred at the Austin Convention Center about the lessons she learned by making her first three films.

Her first narrative, I Will Follow, she made for $50,000 with the intention of getting notice for Affirm, a distribution collective she founded. Mission accomplished.

Her second film, Middle of Nowhere, she made for $200,000 with the intention of getting into Sundance.


But if her successes taught her anything, it was that she could accomplish what she her mind to, but a goal can be misplaced.

“My error wasn’t what was achieved – because on both films I made great strides as a filmmaker and a film distributor,” she said. “The error was my intention in the first place – and where I put my attention. Because I wasn’t making great strides as a human being and an artist.”

Properly conceived intention, and devoting all of your attention on that idea, is the key to success, she says. And, yes – she learned that from Oprah.

The Queen of All Media was a guiding force for DuVernay’s next film, Selma. All of a sudden she had $20 million to make a movie – that’s 100 times the budget of her previous film.

But instead of focusing on delivering big box office or piling up awards, she fixated on what she was really there to do.

“I had no thought about any of that other crap that usually had motivated me to make films,” she said. “I went into that film with one thought, singular and clear: serve this story. Serve this story – you have to. It wasn’t made with any sort of achievement in mind, it was an experience and an offering.”

So she thought about her father, who’s from Alabama. She thought about John Lewis and Martin Luther King. And she thought about all of the nameless, faceless activists whose story she was charged with telling. By serving the story, she was allowing herself to truly think big.

“If your dream only includes you, it’s too small. If that dream is just about the thing you want to accomplish and you don’t even know why you want it – it’s too small,” she said. “It may take your attention, but you’re not really winning. You may achieve it, but you’re not growing from it. You’re just going from thing to thing. It may look like success from the outside. But if you don’t even truly know why you’re doing it, then your cause and effect will be off, and you’re not going to be fully truly living your dream.”

Oprah couldn’t have said it better.

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SXSW: Exploring The Limits Of Free Speech In ‘Welcome To Leith’


Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker Photo: Stephen Becker

AUSTIN – In 2013, the town of Leith, N.D., had a population of 16 adults – 24 if you count the kids. The only business was a small bar. The mayor had served on the city council since he was 16.

It was the perfect target for Craig Cobb.

The noted white supremacist figured if he could buy property in the town and convince like-minded people to move in, before long he’d have all the votes he needed to turn Leith into some sort of Nazi wonderland.

Christopher K. Walker and Michael Beach Nichols read about Cobb’s plot in The New York Times. Two months later, they were on the ground in Leith documenting the residents’ fight to preserve their town.

The resulting documentary, Welcome to Leith, is impressive in its evenhandedness. The townspeople explain their obvious objections. Cobb and his followers argue for their free speech and right to participate in the democratic process.

In fact, it’s kind of surprising how much access Cobb gave to the directors.

“Part of it I think is just the fact that we were a small team,” Nichols said after Friday night’s screening. “Honestly, I think it’s also – neither of us are Jewish. We’re both white. I think that helped ease him when he was around us. And I think because we’re both relatively young, he potentially thought we could be swayed. I mean, this is all speculation, but he certainly asked these questions of us.”

Nichols and Walker gained the trust of people on both sides of Leith’s divide. And by the end of the film, there’s really no reason to think that either side would be upset by how they come off.

“We made a very conscious decision to not make this film if we could not have both sides represented,” Walker said. “The trick to getting that was asking the questions … and not interjecting our own point of view within that process.”

It’s journalism 101 made particularly tough in this case, when, let’s face it – society wouldn’t have a lot of trouble judging who’s right and who’s wrong here. As we say in the business – sometimes you’ve gotta let people hang themselves with their own noose.

But Walker says that the real reason for their dedication to objectivity is they wanted to make a film that could ask big questions.

“We wanted this film basically to spark a big dialogue in terms of what does free speech mean in a democratic society,” he said. “A lot of countries around the world ban hate speech. What would that do to our country if we ban hate speech? Should we ban hate speech? Should we not ban hate speech? What would that do to the country known for being the freest in the world?”

Welcome to Leith will play the Dallas International Film Festival in April. If you don’t catch it there, look for it on PBS series Independent Lens next year.

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Saturday Spotlight – It’s a Day at the Beach…in Downtown Dallas

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Categorized Under: Uncategorized

The Coney Island Boardwalk

Today in the Art & Seek Spotlight, we’re headed to Klyde Warren Park to experience some of the world’s most famous beaches at Spring Fling 2015. We’ll “visit” Venice Beach, Coney Island, and Hawaii with activities including caricature artist demonstrations, carnival games, and lei-making. Live Caribbean music will be the soundtrack of the day as we kick back and enjoy our staycation at the beach.



The beach…is that way. Venice Beach, that is.


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SXSW: It Begins

sxsw logoIn a few hours, I’ll be pointing the car south and heading down I-35 for another edition of South by Southwest. It’s my 11th time covering the festival, which you’ve no-doubt heard has either a) gotten, like, SO big or b) gotten, like, TOO big.

We’ll see if both “a” and “b” are true over the weekend. But until then, I’m going to be optimistic. Mostly because I’m looking forward to checking out:

Welcome to Leith – I’ll be starting this year off with this documentary about white supremacist Craig Cobb’s attempt to takeover a small town in North Dakota. It’s one of the 10 films that the Dallas International Film Festival has announced will be part of this year’s lineup. I’ll be talking to the film’s director, Michael Beach Nichols, after the film, so check back here for a post on that interview on Saturday.

duvernayAva DuVernay – From a white supremacist to arguably the most notable black filmmaker of the last year. DuVernay will give this year’s keynote address Saturday morning. With the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma last weekend and her Oscar snub firmly in the past, she’ll be sharing her thoughts on her experience with Selma and the outlook for black women in film. It looks as if she has a few projects coming up, so if she shares any details, you’ll find them here Saturday afternoon.

Manglehorn – Richardson native and Austin resident David Gordon Green shDGGows his latest project on Saturday afternoon. I’ll be talking to him on Sunday about his turn towards more serious films after Pineapple Express and Your Highness and about working with Al Pacino, who plays a guy grieving over the loss of the love of his life. In the meantime, here’s our Big Screen conversation from 2013, in which we talked about his film Prince Avalanche and about him being an extra in JFK.

I’m also planning to catch Being Evel, a documentary about Evel Knievel that’s also showing at DIFF, and a conversation with Beau Willimon about taking House of Cards from script to screen.

I’ll be blogging all weekend here, posting on the Art&Seek Facebook page and sending out some micro observations and pics on Twitter. Follow me @stephenbecker.

‘Til soon.

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The Van Cliburn’s Youth Movement

Anastasia Magamedova/Courtesy: The Cliburn

Contestant Anastasia Magamedova. Photo: The Cliburn

24 young pianists have been chosen to take part in the First Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition and Festival, happening June 21-28 on TCU’s campus in Fort Worth. The field includes teenage pianists ranging from 13-18 years old, coming from 13 different countries from around the world. It is the event’s first year, and was announced last January.

“This will be a competition that will help us establish relationships with the top international talent at an earlier age,” Cliburn President and CEO Jacques Marquis, said. “We are providing a valuable forum for them to express themselves and an entrance to the next step of their journeys.”

The selection committee whittled down the pool of 160 applicants to 24 contestants, vying for the first place prize of $10,000 cash and a $2,000 scholarship. First, they’ll have to survive four judged rounds with half the field cut after each round. The final round will be held June 28 with three pianists performing a concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

The festival is comprised of five orchestra-related workshops and symposiums, and public performances by the contestants.

A subscription pass is available for $110 that includes a ticket to each concert, while single day passes range from $10-$40. They can be purchased at, at the Bass Hall Box Office or by calling 817.212.4280.

The list of the competitors and their age during competition:

Gavin Bala, Singapore, 16

Adam Balogh, Hungary, 17

Alim Beisembayev, Kazakhstan, 17

Anna Boonyanit, United States,16

Johanna Bufler, Germany, 16

Eoín Fleming, Ireland, 17

Misha Galant, United States, 17

Youlan Ji, China, 16

Davit Khrikuli, Georgia, 14

Yukine Kuroki, Japan, 16

Xiaoxuan Li, China, 13

Wei Luo, China, 16

Anastasia Magamedova, Tajikistan, 17

Gregory Martin, United States, 17

Evelyn Mo, United States, 16

Arsenii Mun, Russia, 16

Roger Shen, United States, 16

Amir Siraj, United States, 15

Clayton Stephenson, United States, 16

Zitong Wang, China, 16

Wai Yuen Wong, Hong Kong, 17

Natasha Wu, United States, 15

Tony Yike Yang, Canada, 16

Adria Ye, United States, 17


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The Big Screen: Remembering Albert Maysles

BIG SCREEN LOGO FOR POSTWith Gimmie Shelter, Albert Maysles set the standard by which all future concert documentaries would be judged. And with his brother, David, he championed the concept of Direct Cinema. Albert died last week at the age of 88. This week, we talk about his contributions to the world of film with a man who knew him well, VideoFest artistic director Bart Weiss.

Be sure to subscribe to The Big Screen on iTunes. Stream this week’s episode below or download it.

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Medea’s Message: Beware the Violence of Love

medea chris hury, sally nystuen vahle

Chris Hury and Sally Nystuen Vahle in Dallas Theater Center’s “Medea”. Photo: DTC

Guest Blogger Gail Sachson owns ASK ME ABOUT ART, offering lectures, tours and program planning.

  • Medea runs through March 29 at Kalita Humphreys Theater.

Hand-to-hand combat replaces heart-to-heart conversation in the Dallas Theater Center’s production of MEDEA by Euripides, directed by Theater Center Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty. Although set in ancient Greece , with the actors in costumes appropriate to the times, the play’s many messages are timeless. There are cautionary tales of ruthless revenge, of reckless romance, of thirst for power, of the longing for legacy and for love.. and lessons to be learned by men, of the deadly lure of beauty and by women, of  the gluttony of gold.

The many lessons are presented in swift, slashing dialogue, never once spoken or screamed out of character by the superb cast. The physicality of the movements, so closely observed by an audience seated at the actors’ feet,  in chairs arranged claustrophobic-close, add to the intensity.

Follow me into the 90-minute , intermission-less play:

We are led in two groups. Women enter first in a line, as if prisoners led not knowing where, down the Frank Lloyd Wright foreboding twisting and turning stairs at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, into a dark, claustrophobic basement space… a loading dock, but in this case, an unloading dock. A place to unload angst, injustices and revenge.We are in a space hidden from the public. We are led silently to our seats and peer into a tunnel. What is a loading dock, becomes the theater’s stage, truly a theater of war. Although we see no usual scenery or props, the creative team has managed to create a space which appears unplanned and untouched, but contains all the necessary props and visuals: a notebook, a knife, and handy light switches.  Exit signs , caution signs and graffiti , which seem permanent, are  uncannily  perfectly placed for emphasis . The fun is noticing the cleverness and the coincidental.

The men in the audience are led in later in a similar fashion and seated  behind the rows of women, who are acting as the chorus. Their chanting contrasts  to the silent, observing men. The characters themselves will sit and speak from within the rows of women, bonding as a tribe  and emphasizing the timelessness of women’s plight. The men are at a school. The women are at a “come to meeting” meeting. The men have received no sacred amulets. The women  tightly clasp fetish objects passed out as they chant in unison “Save us from the violence of love.”.

Rubbing that object provides some calm and prayer for the sacrifices performed before us, but the white knuckles noticed after the play’s end  from squeezing the amulet, makes one remember the lessons of love, and one hopes that this DTC production  would be seen by every High School student to warn our young girls of the “violence of love”.  Medea laments, “It is a bitter thing to be born a woman.” But she also adds and advises, “Only a coward gives good for evil”. Love turned violent,  and evil by either partner, can be stopped before it starts. We must continue to warn our young women of the over-zealousness of offering one’s self to the wrong partner and thus sacrificing themselves, or worse, their children.



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The Big Deal: ‘Humpback Whales’ At The Fort Worth Museum Of Science And History

Almost 50 years ago the humpback whales were near extinction. Today, although they are classified as endangered, the marine mammal has been slowly recovering. Humpback Whales is the newest adventure documentary showing at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. Follow researchers as they document how these majestic creatures maneuver, communicate, and care for their young. Ewan McGregor narrates the IMAX film that was filmed in the beautiful waters of Alaska, Hawaii and the Kingdom of Tonga. Enter to win a pair of passes to see the film at the Omni Theater through the end of May. Passes do not include general museum admission.

Take the time now to peruse our two other Big Deals – tickets to 4 Girls 4 with Andrea McArdle, Christine Andreas, Donna McKechnie, and Maureen McGovern at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, and passes to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.

PLEASE NOTE: Only Art&Seek e-newsletter subscribers can win the Big Deal.  If you are not a subscriber take care of that first, then sign up below for passes to see ‘Humpback Whales.’

UPDATE: We have our winners. Thanks for playing!

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