The Austinites Behind the Curtain: Art Island

Previously in this series:
Erica Lies
Mike Stefanik
Ron Berry
Hyperreal Film Club
Gino Scaramuzza

In this series, we’re getting to know some of the Austinites who produce our favorite local events. This week, we’re talking to Ryan Padgett and Maria Gotay of Art Island, a multimedia art party in a secluded outdoor space on the banks of the Colorado River.

Lite + Brite: Can you give us a brief intro to the Austin events that you produce? 

Maria: Art Island is a crossroads of the ATX arts community. Our gatherings are built on five realms: art, music, fire, tea, and food. We’re always experimenting, and our events are an incubator for our ever-expanding team of collaborators to try something new. While our riverside location is part of our identity, we also produce events in other locations with collaborators in other realms, too! 

Ryan: Art Island has grown into an amazing art community over the last couple years and has become a space for local artists to experiment and try new things in a party/event setting. It is purely powered by the passion and dedication of the Austin community.
I also have been doing live visuals for Exploded Drawing since 2011, and that team is amazing, too. Andrew Brown and Butcher Bear have grown a very prolific beat scene here in town. 

L+B: For how long have you been producing Art Island?

Maria: Almost two years ago we came up with the idea, and we’ve hosted six big events since, plus lots of smaller gatherings in between. Quarantine has put a crimp on our plans, but we’ve pivoted to “QT Editions”—online digital art raves on Zoom. We’d love to see you there. 

L+B: Art Island is basically our dream party: it’s artsy, it’s DIY, it’s site-specific, it’s community-focused. How long does it take to put together an Art Island event? What are some logistical aspects that make it particularly challenging?

Maria: We have a general timeline—six weeks out from the event, we gather interested collaborators for a site visit and from there we work independently towards the event date.  We have five amazing party leads who are each responsible for booking talent in their realm, and we start to lock down those details about two weeks out. The most challenging logistical aspect is set-up and powering our space, which is about 100 feet downhill by the river. We get a workout!

Ryan: We truly would not be able to do this without our community. There are so many hands that help put our events together and contribute art to make it what it is. It takes a village, that’s for sure. And our core team is just the best. Can’t imagine doing this with anyone else! 

L+B: What’s the most memorable or unexpected thing that’s ever happened at an Art Island?

Maria: Last event I was delighted by some unplanned contributions: someone popped up a henna booth, and someone else brought a shrub (vinegar fruit infusion) bar. Amazing!

Ryan: I think the most surprised I have been is at the quality and range of art that is made for our events. I am always so excited to see what everyone makes based on the theme we set, and it never fails! There is no shortage of creativity and talent in the Austin community. 

L+B: What are steps that you take in order to try to ensure a successful event?

Maria: We’re truly community-powered, and it takes an army to make our events sustainable. At the end of the night, friends and attendees volunteer to help us clean up. Because of the physical challenges for set-up and breakdown in our space, we appreciate it so much. I’ve met so many of my best friends at Art Island. We feel like everyone who comes and wants to contribute something is part of our family. 

Ryan: It is all about the teamwork for sure. We try to lead by example by being supportive, helpful, empowering and taking care of each other. We encourage radical self-expression and the artists and attendees feel and see these things and tend to follow suit.

L+B: What are some of your favorite Austin events to attend that you don’t produce?

Maria: We love our fellow arts events producers, who all work so hard in their own communities to provide opportunities to exhibit, support, and connect. You can find me at Almost Real Things block parties, wherever Floorplay DJs are spinning, Day Dreamer events, art night at Polis Creative, and can’t wait for Hypperreal Film Club to bring back their drive-in series this summer. Also really excited for Guan Yin Tea House’s next chapter. 

[Editor’s note: As most of you know, we hosted No Lights No Lycra at Guan Yin Tea House for more than a year, so we too have a very soft spot in our heart for them!]

Ryan: I second everything Maria said! I would also add in anything being done by Growth in Decay. James and his crew are putting out amazing music and have done some of the most unique events I’ve ever attended in Austin (shoutout to their SXSW tunnel party). 

L+B: How can people support you during this time when we can’t go to events?

Come support by attending our QT Editions on Zoom. We ask for donations to our Venmo, which we use to support contributing artists as well as an ATX-based charity. It’s like an Art Island party, but virtual! We have DJs, live hooping, VJing, painting, and whatever else you’d like to contribute! (For me, that’s mainly just dancing). It’s a place to check in with community, let out some steam and let in some positivity. Find information on our Instagram!

L+B: While we’re all stuck at home, are there any streaming events that you’d recommend?

Maria: Besides our QT Editions, I’ve been looking at NPR’s list of daily streaming concerts. There are so many! Besides that, we’re looking forward to and definitely very curious about the virtual edition of this year’s Burning Man

Ryan: And Master Pancake from Alamo Drafthouse has been keeping me laughing as well!