It was exciting for all of the LEAP Ambassadors to be back in Austin again. Even though we were here for the Texas Tribune Festival, we still had so many fond memories of our adventures, friends, and learning opportunities made while working at the Capitol. It was a place that had taught us about politics, the legislative process, and of course the great state of Texas.
After a summer away from the capitol, we decided to visit some old friends, co-workers and possibly even future job opportunities. A lot had changed since we had been gone, especially us. As we stepped into rotunda, we were no longer the inexperienced interns, but hardened veterans yearning for more.
And yet some things had stayed the same. All of our Legislative Session coworkers happily greeted us back into our old offices. There are many of the LEAP Ambassadors who hope to work in the Capitol again, and it was nice to re-acquaint ourselves with friends. This is even more important this year because Professor Yawn will get to watch 7 out of the 9 ambassadors walk the stage (he’s sad to see us go even if he won’t admit it) and LEAP into our futures!
One new thing, though, is that we ran into Karl Rove while in the Capitol!
For political junkies, it was a real treat, one that would be bookended by seeing Senator Al Franken later in the evening.
Lunch at Leaf
Lunch was in a healthy, green restaurant called Leaf, which specializes in making made-to-order giant bowls of salads. Most of their produce is local and their portion size is huge! We were all happy to be able to go there because we had heard many great reviews of this restaurant and it sure did not disappoint. We left with great big smiles on our faces and recharged to continue with our day.
Time with Art, Part 1
After a quick trip to our hotel rooms to freshen up and change into more comfortable clothes, we headed to see some wonderful art by artist Daniel Arredondo. Mr. Arredondo grew up in East Austin and always knew he wanted to be an artist. Now, he fulfills his dream by telling his interesting, and sometimes personal, stories through his artwork. Many of his paintings show landscapes, but the recurring motif of his pieces is “Beneath the Surface”.
He explained this with an example of his trees and how the roots of trees represent the places where we come from and how the darker spots beneath the surfaces are our most treasured secrets. Just recently, he began a new project. For many years, he collected cigar boxes until he accumulated over a thousand of them! He decided to repurpose these boxes by painting on the bottom part.
Amazed by all the wonderful and unique art, we appreciated every piece in his studio. Later, he surprised us by asking us to pick our favorite small painting as a small gift to us. It was such a wonderful gesture that we treasured. Some ambassadors purchased additional paintings. Mr. Arredondo was so hospitable and cheerful.
We certainly enjoyed his studio, his art, and the interesting conversations!
Time with Art, Part 2
Mr. Arredondo had previously informed other artists in the building that we would be dropping by, and each artist and art dealer welcomed us.
Some of the most interesting galleries included the Flatbed Press & Gallery, Gallery Shoal Creek, and Austin Books Arts Center. Artistic highlights included seeing the steps behind the making of Luis Jimenez’s “Self Portrait”.
It was exciting to see the developing stages of a print and to compare each step with the finished product.
Just down the hallway, Gallery Shoal Creek Art Gallery displayed beautiful artwork as well. Ranging from Japanese influenced art to contemporary collages; my favorites were vintage books transformed into art. The artist Karen Hawkins expanded the book’s physical properties by manipulating, folding, cutting, and designing each book into a work of art. Each piece was intricately designed and unique.
In the same building, Austin Books Arts Center was a fun find for the LEAP Ambassadors. We learned how to use a book press, about the classes the books center offers, and the other workshop services the Center offers. We only wish we would have discovered it during our Austin Internships. One of the volunteers was even nice enough to give us a brief tour of the studio before taking a selfie with us.
Excited to begin our Tribune Festival adventure, we attended the opening keynote “One on One with Al Franken” that focused on his latest book, “Al Franken: Giant of the Senate.” We navigated through the UT Campus to find the Hogg Memorial Auditorium. But as we neared our first event’s location, a chill of fear ran through our skin. Although the line on the entrance was small, festival staff stood at the doorway menacingly assigning numbers to those entering: 12, 13, 14. Professor Yawn enters the door way. 15, 16, 17. Most of the group is in, but not Kaitlyn. 18. She’s in now. 19. 20! That is it! No more admission!
The conversation between the Tribunes’ Evan Smith and Senator Franken was filled with amusing anecdotes and political commentary that made for an interesting session.
As to be expected, the Saturday-Night-Live-writer-turned-senator knew how to captivate his audience’s attention. Going through the comedic highlights of his book, Senator Franken commented on the nation’s political atmosphere.
Knowing his audience well, he knew exactly which political figures to bring into the conversation, and most importantly, which to direct his jokes at.
The session soon ended and we joined the throng of exiting festival guests. After regrouping with the rest of the group who had just arrived from Huntsville (Staci, Victoria, and Chase), we decided to visit some of the Festival’s first day attractions at the Opening Night Party.
Dinner at the Clay Pit
After the Friday group joined us in town we headed to dinner to one of our favorite restaurants, Clay Pit.
It was not our first time at Clay Pit (except for Chase) and while we waited to be seated, everyone had already picked what they wanted to eat for dinner. The restaurant is known for its delicious traditional Indian food, and for appetizers we ordered variety of Naan with a side of hummus. I had the Goan Yellow Curry, Karla and Chase shared Lamb Rogenjosh, and Beatriz and Christina shared the Mughali Chicken, to name just a few.
After planning for our second day and a late dinner we headed back to the hotel to get some rest before our second day at the Texas Tribune Festival.