Described as the kind of awards show where you can take your drink up on the stage, The Austin Critics Table Awards has served as an annual night of camaraderie and recognition for local artists in theater, dance, design, classical and visual arts for 25 years. But as both the arts and the art-critics communities have changed amid industry turbulence in recent years, the event has adapted to fit the needs – and the opportunities – better.
The Critics Table itself was founded by theater writers who mainly wrote for print publications like the Austin Chronicle, the Westlake Picayune, the Round Rock Leader and the Austin American-Statesman. At first, they came together at the now-shuttered Katz’s Deli to talk shop and discuss the work they’d seen. After a few years, they decided to formalize their “best of the year” lists into an awards event.
“The format the awards took was kind of a goof on the awards culture. We were very deliberately not putting on tuxedos or rolling out a red carpet,” said Robert Faires, the only founder of the event still participating and the art critic for the Austin Chronicle for the past 30 years. “It took a few years for us to feel like it was something that may be important to the community. And it certainly feels that way now.”
While almost all Austin arts organizations operate as nonprofits, the caliber of the art has become more professional and innovative, said Faires. To reflect the range of art, this year’s Critics Table judges have adjusted the categories to make them less theater-heavy.
“There’s more diversity among the artists and the art forms in Austin, but this is not just a participation award,” said David Wyatt, a long-time volunteer for the event and the owner of Wyatt Brand, a public relations agency that specializes in the art organizations. “Artists have to wait years to the point where they’ve developed their craft and matured as an artists to get recognized. It’s very meaningful.”
In addition to adjusting the categories, Faires has had to adjust the roster of judges. As the last of the founders participating, he realized that the awards should include the new breed of art writers, especially those who publish primarily online. This year’s judges include writers from websites and blogs like Broadway World Austin, Austin Entertainment Weekly, Arts & Culture Texas, and Conflict of Interest TX.
Because these writers can post more often online than Faires’s weekly Chronicle posts in print, he said, “They’re writing more reviews than I am, so they’re clearly seeing much more stuff. The goal is to bring on more people so that this event will continue. It’s important to share this with new writers.” The Critics Table group now meets for happy hours at the Butterfly Bar.
“Bringing in new voices is going to help make more people think this is their event, too,” said Wyatt. “Their readers tend to be younger, so I think having them participate is a necessity. But it also reinvigorates the spirit of the awards and encourages the next generation.”
Austin Critics Table Awards
Monday, June 5, 7 pm
Cap City Comedy Club
8120 Research Blvd 78758
PHOTO: Women & Their Work Gallery accepts “Best Body of Work” award at the 2015 Austin Critics Table Awards.
NOTE: This article was also published by the Austin American-Statesman on May 28, 2017.