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Partnership with Austin organization Fusebox bolsters Texas Performing Arts’ artist-in-residence program

cultural exchange rate tpa fall 2023
"Cultural Exchange Rate” makes its Texas premiere this season at Texas Performing Arts. Photos courtesy of Texas Performing Arts

We had our staff and wanted to make an impact in our local community to help sustain artists in Austin.

Bob Bursey

Bianca Hooi graduated from the Yale School of Drama and moved to New York City to become a stage manager. But in 2020, after two years working as a freelancer, she fled back to San Antonio, fearful of imminent pandemic-induced confinement and industrywide closure. She sat stagnant in her parents’ home evaluating her next move and feeling anxious about job prospects amid the COVID-19 lockdown. While idle, she scanned the internet for anything related to performance art and found an opening at Texas Performing Arts (TPA).

Texas Performing Arts began its relationship with Fusebox — a nonprofit organization that hosts an arts festival every spring — early in the pandemic to create an artist-in-residency program at UT. Bob Bursey, executive and artistic director of Texas Performing Arts, helped launch the program in the 2020-21 season to aid artists. 

During Hooi’s interview for the position, she expressed a desire to support the struggling artist community. Bursey echoed her desire and mentioned the soon-to-launch artist-in-residency program. Within a couple of weeks, she had moved to Austin and become assistant to the executive and artistic director at Texas Performing Arts.

“It was such a devastating time, of course, for everyone — for arts institutions and for individual artists whose performance opportunities and many of their commissions dried up,” Bursey says. “We had our staff and wanted to make an impact in our local community to help sustain artists in Austin.”

Bianca Hooi portrait
Bianca Hooi is the artistic and executive project manager at Texas Performing Arts. Portrait by Julius Shieh

The artist-in-residency program sponsors one to three artists a season. The program provides financial support, facilities, marketing and resources, including actors, backstage crews and musicians or backup musicians. Artists come into residency at various stages of their creative projects. Some are in the middle of building, some need support fleshing out the ideas and operations, and some arrive with a complete piece and need a space and audience to receive the final product. This season’s artist-in-residence, Lisa B. Thompson, is a well-known playwright who wears many hats. She is also the Patton Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and serves as the College of Liberal Arts adviser to the dean for faculty mentoring and support.

“That’s the super lovely thing about being able to be a resident artist,” Hooi says. “You’re committing this relationship to an organization where they say, ‘We’re going to invest time, money, resources. You tell us what you need.’”

For this upcoming 2023-24 season, Texas Performing Arts will expand its partnership with Fusebox to bring more multimedia artists to UT from all over the world. “It’s allowing (artists) to expand their platform and public impact with our partnership,” Bursey says.

Bob Bursey portrait
Bob Bursey is executive and artistic director of Texas Performing Arts. Portrait by Julius Shieh

The extended partnership grew after Bursey and Ron Berry, the co-artistic director of Fusebox, brainstormed how to extend Fusebox’s vision beyond an annual festival. 

“We’re always wanting to support innovative, imaginative work that’s daring and artistic-minded and forward,” Hooi says. “There is a community within Austin, and there’s this interstitial cross-institutional collaboration to support the culture of arts in Austin.”

The 2023-24 calendar for TPA and Fusebox will include three performances throughout the year. They started Sept. 29 with the musical trio of Grammy-winning vocalist Arooj Aftab, pianist Vijay Iyer and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily presenting their project “Love in Exile.” 

Later in the fall, TPA and Fusebox will partner with The Contemporary Austin, which is a visual arts center, and the Butler School of Music to present “Tremble Staves,” an outdoor performance in Laguna Gloria by Pulitzer Prize-winning Navajo composer Raven Chacon. The piece is a commentary on the approaching water crisis. It synthesizes mixed media using natural light, sound manipulation and theatrical performances. The show requires a large, local percussion ensemble, so Bursey brought in the Butler School, which will supply about 20 percussion students for the performance.

“(It) really is an almost unclassifiable performance,” Bursey says. “It doesn’t fit into any clear definition of music, or theater, or visual art. It blends them together, and that’s a great example of an artist whose creativity doesn’t fit into any neat box, and that’s the type of work that I’m really excited to be doing through this partnership.”

Three people dancing dynamically on a stage
“Radioactive Practice,” a performance that brings together several different movement traditions, comes to Texas Performing Arts in April.

Back on campus, the three-performance partnership finishes with Geoff Sobelle’s “FOOD” in the McCullough Theatre. Shows will run from Jan. 31 through Feb. 3. 

Bursey is always looking for performances he can bring to Texas Performing Arts. He reads articles in the Austin American-Statesman about aspiring artists and contacts them. He quickly sets up conversations to understand the artists’ needs and what they hope to make possible.

“It’s the genius of Bob,” Hooi says. “Of always having a finger on the pulse and being like, ‘Where are these opportunities to start cultivating relationships and new work?’… I think it’s so important that people do new work and have the space and time to develop and generate new ideas.”