Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cool Collaboration

Everyone wants to be cool, in his own way. No one wants to be un-cool. We glean the social columns, photo pages and advertisements to see who went to which event, to discover the new cool place to dine or to be seen, or to define our own style and fashion. It's Austin's nature to be cool. Cool directs the new trend. Cool serves as a foundation of new start-up companies. And cool supports the business strategy for long-term survival, especially now that economic times are tough.

In our city, art is inspiring us to be cool, and an exhibition at the Blanton Museum is rousing a bevy of local businesses and organizations to collaborate in a bid to energize Austin before our overly cautious consumption and the heat of summer further slow us down.

"Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Midcentury," the Blanton Museum of Art's featured exhibition on the University of Texas campus, is like a spring economic development stimulus package that places art at its center. The exhibit's collection of works by creative artists who helped develop the style of high modernism demonstrates how forms, ideals and expressions of one generation can stimulate a new generation of businesses to rally around art as a means of injecting life into our current economic doldrums. Named after the influential Miles Davis jazz album, the exhibition gives Austin an opportunity to crank up the volume on its own creative expressions to chill out this recession and soak up the cool things we love about our city.

Art serves as the platform to launch local alliances. However, the collaborative seed was planted nearly two years ago when the Blanton added the exhibition to its calendar and began cultivating synergy with likely and unlikely sources. No one imagined then that now, more than ever, Austin needs something cool to happen that will stimulate our spending in local record stores, at local movie houses and theaters.

So, whether out of desperation or creativity, the concept of collaborating around an art exhibit seems like a cool idea, and the door is wide open for building on that concept. The Austin Film Society and the Alamo Drafthouse are presenting a special 1950s film series starting in late March that captures the era that created cool. The Elephant Room is presenting a musical series that honors the post-war period, and several restaurants, wine bars and other venues are planning discounts to encourage consumption of cool food and drink. Local radio and television will leverage their respective frequencies to refresh our minds about the rich cultural awakening of the 1950s.

Art is creating the vibe that is reinvigorating business attitudes about trying something new to capture the attention of their customers. Creative collaboration extends the art experience into experiences of taste, sound, entertainment, architecture and d├ęcor. However, the possibilities are limitless if more Austin business owners put their minds to it and let the essence of cool permeate the local economic landscape. If more local businesses do this well, we all will rediscover that collaboration is not a measure of last resort, but a first step toward ongoing success. Collaborating is what Austin should do best because it unleashes our creativity, and creativity stimulates action.

So act cool Austin. Find someone to collaborate with on an idea that makes this slow period pass quickly. Collaboration is cool, and who doesn't want to be cool?

(As published 03.16.09 in the Austin American Statesman)