Lighting a creative fire through the Fusebox Festival

Hybrid Austin arts fest takes on big ideas but also deals in discovery and delight.


Highlights

Fusebox Festival tackles big ideas like the border and health care through the arts.

Austin is home to a lot of festivals, but few of them as intriguing as Fusebox.

There really isn’t anything else quite like the Fusebox Festival.

First, admission is free. You could stop right there. How do they do that?

(Answer: A combination of gifts, grants and elbow grease.)

Further, the hybrid Austin gathering, which returns April 12-16 to multiple locations, doesn’t just present vanguard artists from here and around the world. It urges them to engage with their audiences around the big ideas of the day.

For instance, this year multiple acts will dig into border concerns, and others will explore the state of community health. That’s the kind of thoughtful strategy you would expect from something like the Texas Tribune Festival, but it might surprise some to see it at an offbeat arts fest.

PHOTOS: Hybrid Austin event Fusebox Festival tackles big ideas through art

“We’re very aware that other organizations are much better equipped in this moment to tackle different parts of the border issue,” says Fusebox founder and captain Ron Berry. “This is true of any issue. We do think the arts are uniquely positioned to foster cultural exchange and collaboration; to engage our imaginations and create out-of-the-box thinking and possibilities; and to hold multiple viewpoints simultaneously.”

It should be noted that Fusebox is not just about big-brain ideas.

“For me, one of the things I’ve always loved about festivals is that they are — or can be — places for discovery,” Berry says. “Sometimes that’s simply hearing a new band that you didn’t know anything about. … I get such a jolt when I learn about a new artist that excites me.”

The border

“With the proposal of a new border wall, issues around immigration are certainly front and center at the moment,” Berry says. “Particularly in Texas because of our geography. The festival is an opportunity to look at our shared history along our border from both sides.”

Berry became interested in the repeated suggestion during the presidential campaign of a bridge instead of a wall. In his typically exploratory fashion, the bridge, in his mind, became instead a vast network connecting different artists and projects.

“There are real lives at stake,” Berry says. “But we also wanted to do something positive about it. Create. Connect. Share. Make things together. And celebrate what’s wonderful about our shared culture with Mexico.”

Some of the border-related projects featured in this year’s festival include the new opera “Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance”; “Tijuana and Yanhuitlan: La Democracia en Mexico (1965-2015),” a look at Mexican democracy from theater collective Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol; “Boom! Boom! Whamm! Swoosh!,” a public ritual by Ervin Morazan; and “Chulita Vinyl Club,” a little extra music at Al Volta’s Midnight Bar.

Community health

“What if festivals were not just these ephemeral things that pop up for X number of days and then vanish?” Berry asks. “What if we used the platform of a festival to look at something together as a city and then used that opportunity to make something together?”

For some time, the minds behind Fusebox have talked about the reality of Austin real estate.

“As we experience rapid growth, could we imagine a different, more responsible way of developing real estate that is driven by community and that is simultaneously forward-looking while still honoring the history and culture of our city?” Berry says. “This year we are continuing this work by looking at issues of community health and food access. All over East Austin, new restaurants and cafes are opening up — which is great and wonderful. However, most of these new offerings have little to no connection with the history of East Austin, and most of them are not particularly affordable, especially for many of the area’s working-class families.”

The Fuseboxers quickly expanded this larger conversation to address health. A community cafe on April 15 will feature healthy, affordable food created by chef Gabe Hernandez, health screenings in collaboration with the University of Texas School of Pharmacy, fresh produce from the Sustainable Food Center, artwork by Matt Rebholz and Kate Csillagi, performances by students and discussions about new strategies to address community health.

“We saw this as an opportunity to engage with the new UT Dell Medical School, which has a specific interest in exploring issues related to community health,” Berry says. “Specifically, we’ve been partnering with the Design Institute for Health, which is a unique collaboration between the Medical School and the College of Fine Arts. We are also working with the fabulous Sustainable Food Center.”

The project is guided by local artists Jason Phelps and Zell Miller III and led by students from Eastside Memorial High School and East Austin College Prep.

“For us, this work stems from a deep belief that the arts are not this thing separate from life,” Berry says. “They are inseparable from life. And so when we talk about a community’s health, arts and culture need to be part of that.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Austin360

Italy can’t get enough of a hemp product that’s illegal to eat or smoke
Italy can’t get enough of a hemp product that’s illegal to eat or smoke

For the past year, small jars of cannabis flowers have been flying off the shelves of Italian specialty shops: a phenomenon that’s described as a “green gold rush.” The hemp flowers — with names like K8, Chill Haus, Cannabismile White Pablo and Marley CBD — are sold under the tag “cannabis light” because their...
Smithfield Foods donates more than 40,000 pounds of protein to FeedMore

In celebration of the spring TOYOTA OWNERS 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race, Smithfield Foods, Inc., and Kroger joined forces at Richmond Raceway over the weekend to donate more than 40,000 pounds of protein to FeedMore, Central Virginia’s core hunger-relief organization. Assisting with the donation was Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield...
German food über alles
German food über alles

A recent story in the Washington Post reported on a sad trend: All over the country, German restaurants are going out of business. This news is especially troubling because Germans still make up the largest ancestry group in the United States. But the food of their homeland is rarely served in restaurants. The reason given most often is that German...
Breaded chicken cutlets that can go in (or on) just about anything
Breaded chicken cutlets that can go in (or on) just about anything

It's hard to beat the versatility of a breaded chicken cutlet - on a salad, in a sandwich, over a bed of mashed potatoes. You can't go wrong. The key to evenly cooked, juicy cutlets is using pieces that are thinner than the boneless, skinless chicken breast halves straight out of the package (which often have tenderloins attached, the source of chicken...
Making her own way, nearly 100 years later
Making her own way, nearly 100 years later

When Fayad Araiji came to Crowley, Louisiana, from Zgharta in northern Lebanon in 1920, he did not speak a word of English. But by 1928, Araiji, by then known as Fred Reggie, had started three businesses, including a grocery store stocked with canned goods, flour and vegetables. Now, his great-granddaughter Simone Reggie is doing her best to keep up...
More Stories