Austin City Lights

Life in a creative ecosystem

Photo/Image courtesy of Carlos Delgado

Rarely a day passes that the fruits of my creative labor do not depend on code-red, immediate help for survival. “Oh shit, I need an editor! Somebody get me a programmer! My kingdom for an animator, package designer, supply chain guru, I.P. attorney, indie film director, investor, composer, Pilates instructor!“

Like most creatives, these pleas constitute the soundtrack of my day. I often listen to it while jogging. Fortunately for me, I know precisely the action to take for addressing the most vexing professional need: I go to lunch.

In Austin, Texas, my home of 30 years, the act of grabbing lunch with a friend will typically connect the creative professional to any resource needed. You see, Austin has developed into a singular creative ecosystem. Woven into its rolling 200-ish square miles are creative start-ups and stalwarts alike of every discipline—Web, Film, Apps, Music, Stage, Screen, Fashion, Education, Publishing, Cat Videos, you get the idea.  And in Austin, all of these creative types get their ya ya’s out by collaborating, cross-pollinating, and conspiring with other creative types. It’s a citywide creative support group, fueled by ubiquitous live music and Tex-Mex.

Austin’s creative mojo has always been a potent force—just Google “Armadillo World Headquarters” for a taste—but technology hotbed? Innovation hub? Launchpad for entrepreneurial fever dreams? The fact is, Austin achieved its net promoter score in business circles only recently. The catalysts were many, but the two providing the biggest spark were South by Southwest Festival and the late-90s .Com explosion. Both lodged Austin immovably in the consciousness of the creative class, and sent people, ideas, and money into this once-sleepy college town. To a large degree, the rest happened organically. Austin’s beautiful surroundings, beyond-mellow vibe, and militantly nice, welcoming community inspire anyone with ideas to frolic among others with ideas. Austin’s storied dreamers have joined forces with doers, and the results are…pretty cool, Man.

To be certain, the City of Austin pays it forward in the form of grant funding aplenty, amazing start-up resources, technology incubators, public/private consortiums, and a hip, educated workforce that’s day-one ready (Fueled in part by The University of Texas at Austin and its 40,000+ undergrad enrollment. Unpaid interns!) But there’s some indefinable quality at the heart of Austin’s creative energy. The zeitgeist here is simply alive with possibility and connectedness and “We” thinking. And if ever a need arises, help is only a Tex-Mex lunch away.