Art Outside Is a Beacon for Texas' Alternative Festival Scene

Article by: Matthew Cremer|@Cremerica

Tue October 20, 2015 | 00:00 AM

Bo-no-bo. What do these three somewhat exotic syllables do for you? Did they just make you want to keep reading? If not, how about Nightmares on Wax? Did you just get goosebumps? What about Papadosio? Getting much warmer, I can tell. But wait, there’s more. Greensky Bluegrass. Lettuce. Bluetech. Elephant Revival. Dopapod. You’re still reading, aren’t you? See, I just lured you right in with the music. And that’s what Art Outside is doing – except the 11-year-old festival, which is an hour outside of Austin, Texas, is backing it up with plenty more than empty name-dropping jibber-jabber.

With over 40 musicians this year, the music lineup is stellar (did I mention Tauk?), but Art Outside's full-on, deep dive into visual and aural arts has made it about much more than a collection of creatives there for show. “We're trying to showcase the arts in general the best we can with an outdoor festival," says festival director Warren McKinney. "I've been part of art installations and art projects at events to where it’s a second-class citizen kind of thing.” 

Art Outside 2014 Kevin Bradbury 2

Photo by: Kevin Bradbury

Considering that, aside from the music, Art Outside is bursting at the seams with everything from live painters to performance troupes to aerialists and fire performers, the array of stimulating splendor on hand puts to rest any silly ideas about visual or performance art being festival wallpaper. This Texas event provides the same type of immersive, experiential gathering that the West Coast's transformational festivals excel in, making it an anomaly in these parts. Perusing through the lineup of non-musical contributors (the floral wizardry of Anthony Ward, the visionary goodness of Randal Roberts, or even the installation piece prowess of Michael Christian, to name a few), it is quickly evident that Art Outside comes out strong in counter-balancing such an eclectic roster of musicians.

Austin-based multi-instrumental producer Derek Van Scoten, better known as D.V.S*, is performing for the second consecutive year. Having played festivals such as Lightning In a Bottle and Symbiosis he appreciates the synergy of Art Outside’s co-creative dynamic. “Lots of music, and electronica in particular, does best when it's a piece of the puzzle, and not the entire focal point. Using art as a creative feature is a slam dunk for all parties involved.”

Art Outside 2014 Christopher Penley

Even if the visual arts may not necessarily be attractions unto themselves (just yet), for McKinney, the aim of this gathering is to bring them much further to the forefront in order to dissolve the traditional boundaries between artist and festival-goer. “The way we curate things is there is a lot more opportunity for you to engage with the artists if you're a patron…It could very well be that you see performers onstage at night and then the very next day they're conducting a workshop. Or you might even be camping right next to them. It's more of a community in that sense instead of just being on one side of a barricade watching a performer and then that's your only experience with them.”

In its earliest incarnations Art Outside was more along the lines of what founder Tyler Hanson described as a "hippy anarchistic collective forest,” using this as a way to bring art out of its studio confines and into nature. After McKinney took over in 2009, he built upon the original blueprint, as it transitioned out of coinciding with South by Southwest into a standalone camping festival featuring music as well. However, as the event moved locations to the 1,000-acre Apache Pass site, there has been no desire to grow the festival much further than this year’s expected turnout of 5,000 people. “We don't want to lose the sense of community and the intimacy and get to the point where we have to just start managing people. Because as soon as you get to that point, it definitely changes the vibe.” 

Art Outside 2014

Photo by: Art Outside

Between this noteworthy commitment and achieving an optimal flow within the physical layout, McKinney’s vision has delivered a superb atmosphere, thus leaving an indelible impression on attendees. Randi Southard of Crash Alchemy, a stage performance collective out of Austin, elaborated on how this has become the calling card for Art Outside. “While I have performed and painted at many different events and festivals through the years, this one feels like a pilgrimage of real family. It is as if all of the art forms are many different tributaries combined into one lake of serene beauty and grooving to anoint everyone with the spirit of conscious creativity and sustainability education.”

With such attributes as 50+ workshops and a “Leave No Trace” policy – in addition to an overflowing abundance of art – this kind of environment is certainly not uncommon, being exemplified at conscious-minded events proliferating the West Coast festival scene. However, the goal for McKinney was never to become just an isolated transformational-style gathering, but to evolve into more of a springboard, rallying the local arts community far beyond those four days. It was through his production company, Art Seen Alliance, that a variety of micro events (20 music showcases, ten workshop-based events, five visual art shows) were hosted at Austin locations to increase engagement throughout the year. Anthony Thogmartin of Papadosio, performing for the third time this year at Art Outside, values the potential in how this can flourish on another level. “If we ever want to graduate from the original initiation phase of what a transformational festival can do, we must learn to form these kind of conscious, community building, eco-centric practices and events outside of the celebratory model.”

Art Outside 2014 Mario Villeda

Using The Bloom Series’ interactive transformational festival map as a telltale gauge, Art Outside is indeed one of a kind in Texas. Although an anomaly to the region, its inside-out approach is further establishing Art Outside as the kind of premier artistically immersive experience Texas has been craving. “You look at our little dot on the map and there's nothing around us for quite awhile…It makes me super pleased to see that we're able to kind of be that little beacon in this area and keep pushing through, making it happen,” says McKinney. 

Perhaps over time we will see this year round blueprint-in-progress become the paradigm for pushing out of the impermanent notion of “festival as a retreat” into a perennial way of life.

Art Outside occurs October 22-25 in Rockdale, Texas, just one hour outside of Austin.  Click here to buy tickets.