I am interviewing different interesting creative internationally minded people here in Austin. This time my target is Mary Gawron who has been very nice to work with on any occasion I have ever run into her. She is a wonderful President for the Austin Polish Society.
The Austin Polish Society – Who We Are
The Austin Polish Society (APS) was created in 2005 by a group of Polish Americans who wanted to use the power of Polish art and film to bridge cultures and to educate, entertain and inform Texas audiences. After obtaining non-profit status with the IRS in December 2005, the APS established a program of events reflecting Polish arts and culture, based on its objective and purpose:
– To encourage, and further knowledge of Polish culture, traditions, history, language, arts, current affairs, and local events through cultural activities, classes, seminars, and any and all appropriate means;
– and to foster friendly relations between the American and Polish people.
Who APS Serves
The APS represents the Austin community – Polish-Americans and Americans – in central Texas who are interested in learning more about Poland and Polish arts, culture, history, films, language and more.
What is your role with the group?
A Board of Directors directs the APS. There are four officers on the Board: a President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer. I am the President and Angelika Firlej is the Vice-President; the Treasurer is Anthony
What does your group want to accomplish?
The APS wants to be a resource for community and to serve the cultural and social needs of Polish-Americans and their families. The APS does this through concerts, films, food, holiday celebrations, language classes, literature, poster exhibits and lectures. A major accomplishment has been the establishment of a Polish Studies Endowment at the University of Texas at Austin. APS also reaches out to those who want to learn more about Poland and partners with other cultural organizations in Austin to support the international community.
What would make you really happy as an accomplishment with your group?
The Polish Studies Endowment was a major accomplishment for APS. The endowment funds shall be used to support 1) study or research in Poland by students of the University; 2) study of Polish culture, history, or language at the University; talks and events related to promoting Polish Studies; 4) scholarly research related to Poland; and 5) instruction of the Polish language.
How do you think it is working out, what are your biggest obstacles and the best surprises that have come along?
The APS is a busy, energetic group that has attracted a lot of positive attention and support. Based on attendance and ticket sales for events, our audiences are satisfied.
Our biggest obstacle is learning to maximize social networking to inform our current and potential audiences.
The best surprise has been the genuine support and appreciation from many who had no idea that there is a Polish organization in Austin and how many people are impressed once they learn more about Poland. Another great surprise is the respect we have earned from other cultural organizations in the US and in Poland for our organizing efforts and unique and friendly approach to promoting Polish arts and culture. The Austin Polish Film Festival is our biggest event and is well attended every November.
How many Polish are there in Austin area and how is your membership?
We believe that there are about 15,000 people of Polish ancestry living in Austin (population=1,874,000). In Houston (population = 6.2 million) there are almost 20,000 of Polish ancestry. In San Antonio (population = 1,360,000) there are more than 14,000 people of Polish ancestry. Our APS membership is at 80 and we are always looking for new members!
What kind of activities do you do and how do you fund the groups activities?
The APS has a regular calendar of events established at an annual Board meeting in January of each year. In addition to these regular events, we always have requests for a variety of additional events, primarily concerts or dramatic presentations. The APS has membership dues, charges for many of our events, and we have wonderful members who donate, volunteer, or find a venue for our events. APS also applies for grants and we are currently funded by the City of Austin for the annual Austin Polish Film Festival held each November.
What is the most captivating thing about Austin for you?
The people are the best thing about Austin, followed closely by the weather, natural beauty, educational opportunities, the diversity, business opportunities, arts, culture and music!
What would you tell a visitor not to miss in Austin?
Don’t miss the Broken Spoke Dance Hall on North Lamar!
Where do you go in Austin to chill out?
Barton Springs, Emma Long Park, Zilker Park, Mount Bonnell, Lady Bird Lake, anywhere along the Colorado River on a raft or canoe.
What is the most memorable thing that has happened to you in Austin?
Our two sons were born here in Austin and I graduated from UT-Austin.
Is there something that annoys you about Austin?
The traffic and street names that suddenly change!
What is your favorite restaurant/s? And is there any place I could get Polish food here – what is it to you…
Unfortunately there are no Polish restaurants in Austin, but we have some of the best Polish chefs in the US living here in Austin and they are members – so join us and get to know good Polish food.
How would someone from abroad benefit by coming to Austin for a few years?
People from abroad can benefit from the relaxed Austin attitude and the hospitality – Austin is very open to new ideas and people and makes you feel at home. It is a friendly city and all who visit have positive experiences.
What do you miss most from your own country?
I miss my family, especially my son who is living in Warsaw. Also, in Poland the food is delicious because freshness and being in season is still important. For example, you can only get the fragrant, small strawberries in the summer. There are also many local specialties that are not exported and cannot be duplicated. The bread is always good and the pastries are delicious!
When is the best time to visit?
Every time of the year is the best time to visit Poland! Skiing in the winter, beautiful green springtimes, balmy summers with excellent beaches in the north, and golden autumns with mild temperatures.
Have you connected with the other international groups in Austin (in addition to EuroCircle)?
Yes, APS has coordinated with several international groups, including the Austin Ukrainian Group, Austin Intercultural Network, and the Austin Jewish Film Festival.