The ubiquitous “Keep Austin Weird” movement seems more defined by what it’s against — big-box stores, Mediterranean-style buildings, Hummers — than what it’s for. This kind of excess and a mainstream, cookie-cutter aesthetic the slogan’s proponents think Austin can do without. Going by this very unscientific exhortation, it would seem that the Arthouse at the Jones Center building in downtown Austin, newly renovated and expanded by the New York City–based firm Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis Architects (LTL), should be heralded by Austinites as happily weird and wonderful enough to grace their downtown. And it is.
More than 4,000 people attended the four days of opening events in October, confirming that Austin is hungry for more cultural as well as visual arts venues. Arthouse may be Austin’s oldest arts organization — it was founded in 1911 as the Texas Fine Arts Association (TFAA) — but it has never been old-fashioned. As an independent, privately funded nonprofit contemporary arts institution, Arthouse shows the work of new artists but does not collect like a museum or represent artists for profit like a gallery. Its programs create opportunities for showing contemporary art and involving the community.