The Art and Sound of Free Beer

In his free time, Blanton preparator Dave Culpepper produces, with several friends, the local arts podcast Free Beer. The show has been around for a year, and has received a Cultural Engagement grant from the City of Austin for 2016. Last week, I spoke with Dave about his work, his art, and Free Beer.

Can you tell me a little bit about what you do at the Blanton?

Free BeerI’ve been at the Blanton four and half years now. I started working there as a guard in the galleries, and did that work for about three and half years. Then I started working on the tech crew, installing artwork, fabricating pedestals, and creating build-outs for exhibitions.

You’re also a contemporary artist. How long have you been doing that?

I graduated in 2010 from Virginia Commonwealth University in Virginia. I moved to Austin with my at-the-time girlfriend, now wife, when she got into grad school at the University of Texas for Museum Education. I got the job at the Blanton, made some friends there, and my wife met a lot of people through the master’s program. So we created a group called Ink Tank—an artists’ collective.

I work on my own personal stuff, too. I got an Austin Critic’s Table Award last year for solo gallery exhibition. That was the last show I did.

What made you want to do a podcast? Was it difficult to get it started?

Free BeerIt started with being a guard at the Blanton. You’re allowed to listen to headphones while you’re patrolling the galleries. A portion of the people I started Ink Tank with also were guards at the Blanton. The four of us [Culpepper, T.J. Lemanski, Landon O’Brien and Nate Ellefson] developed a real appreciation for podcasts through that experience. We wound up listening to countless hours of them. A full breadth of them, too, from very popular ones to very off-the-beaten-path, more experimental podcasts.

Last year we decided, let’s spend 2015 and see if we can make a podcast. We put out an episode a month. Not that hard to put together, though, a podcast. The amount of equipment that we have is pretty minimal. We have a field recorder and we’ll take that to artists’ studios and events to collect a lot of recordings. Then we’ll go through all of those and pick out what we want.

How would you describe your podcast to someone who’s never heard it?

It’s a contemporary arts podcast that focuses on studio practice, artistic ideas and mediums, and also we’ll do event coverage for things that are happening in town, like the East Austin Studio Tours, or the Art Bash, or Pop Austin, these kind of larger art-party events.

It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek—to go and record at an opening like that is kind of silly sometimes. You know how when people interview folks that are standing in line for three days at a movie? That kind of like quick, choppy, fast content.

And that’s where our name sprouts from, too. Being called Free Beer is revolving around the concept of socializing at these events. Even if you don’t like the [art] work, or the person making it, you can still go get a free drink, and hang out with your friends and talk about maybe the thing that you hate at the show, or the thing that you love at the show, or maybe just what’s going around in Austin, the climate of the scene.

Free BeerWhat is the strangest experience that you’ve had making an episode of Free Beer?

We did an interview with [artist] Erica Nix, and I think that was one of the more oddball interviews that we did because of the structure of it. She teaches workout classes. They’re in the vein of Richard Simmons, so they’re very energetic, very enthusiastic. You know, she tries to get you out of that “I’m uncomfortable working out in front of a lot of people” bubble.

And [in her artwork] she’s also very into sex workers, and she’s very into free expression. She also does performance art pieces where she does these kind of exhibitionist-style workout routines. One night, we went to her workout. We had a short conversation with her, and then we recorded an entire workout of us doing the workout with her. So you got to hear the music, you got to hear her enthusiasm, and you got to hear us panting and flopping all over the floor.

What can listeners expect in future episodes?

This year’s programming is going to start in February Our first episode is going to be with Zac Traeger. He’s a musician, and is one of the organizers of The Museum of Human Achievement.

What’s the best way for people to listen to your podcast?

Subscribe on iTunes is the easiest way. We have a website where you can stream everything off of there; you can also download off of that, too. There are things you can buy online, too. There’s coozies, and fun stuff like that. We have stickers now. And that helps us out, for the costs of keeping the thing on.

To hear episodes of Free Beer, visit their website at http://freebeerpla.net/.

Rebecca Johnson is a volunteer blogger for the Blanton and editor of McDonald Observatory’s StarDate magazine.

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