Matthew McConaughey Says Austin Can Be a Metropolis & Keep Its Soul
The actor is helping create a “new definition of authenticity” with the launch of the Moody Center
By Hannah J. Phillips
The actor and Austin icon has been intimately involved since early design stages of the new super venue, partnering with Oak View Group (OVG), Live Nation Entertainment/C3 Presents, Dell Technologies and the University of Texas. With state-of-the-art acoustics, luxury suites and club spaces, the $338 million project is set to become a premier setting worthy of the city’s title as the Live Music Capital of the World.
And while the 42-year-old Frank C. Erwin Jr. Center can never be replaced in the hearts of many Longhorn alumni and native Austinites, we spoke with the Minister of Culture himself for a roundtable discussion on how the new, world-class venue will retain that authentic Austin atmosphere.
When the university first announced the project in 2019, McConaughey bestowed the “Minister of Culture” title on himself in reference to his diplomatic duties between campus and developers. Cultural gatekeeper of all things Austin, the Academy Award-winning actor initially saw the role as a natural next step in supporting both the university and the city.
“They go hand in hand,” he says. “The whole title of Minister of Culture in other countries is in charge of tourism, music, youth and sports—there’s four things I love that I think about daily anyway.”
The ‘93 UT alum and current Professor of Practice has long partnered with his alma mater on promoting Longhorn sports, and his Just Keep Livin’ Foundation is a youth organization focused on encouraging an active lifestyle. Adding music to the mix by helping Austin develop a premier entertainment venue was a no-brainer.
“Austin needs one,” he says. “So [the question was]: how do we make this the first place a big band wants to play in the world, and the last place a visiting basketball team wants to play?… That was the fun challenge, and where I really leaned in as a bridge between how it can be authentically burnt orange one night for a game and then handle the biggest bands in the world the next night and still feel authentically Austin.”
For McConaughey, the answer is all in the details, a delicate balance between the bells and whistles of a top ten venue and the approachable atmosphere that draws people to Austin in the first place.
“From the food to the flow, from the communal to the elite seats, from the VIP down to General Admission, [we thought about] how each zone in this arena on any given night is going to have a unique experience and doesn’t feel like it could be anywhere else in the world.”
The 530,000 square foot arena will feature 15,000 seats for concerts, a lineup already consisting of major names like The Weeknd and Justin Bieber. Premium seating will balance an exclusive atmosphere with a communal feeling—including porch suites with no barriers so guests can engage with neighboring suites while still retaining a degree of privacy.
“We wanted to have that communal area, so there’s not a wall between us,” says McConaughey, noting how the design inspiration for the suites came from the porches of Austin lake homes. “The great thing about Austin is it’s a place where nobody’s too good and nobody’s good enough, we are a communal city.”
Both the suites and club seating will integrate intimate settings with communal atmospheres, and the Moody Center is currently taking deposits for 2,000 club memberships that will give fans access to the best seats in the house. Beyond premium seating, this balanced ethos drove all design elements for the arena, says McConaughey, who sees the project as a testament to the ever-evolving definition of what it means to be “authentically Austin.”
“It’s a growing definition, we’re a growing city,” he says. “We can’t be stuck in nostalgia and say, ‘I want it to be like the good ole days.’ No, it’s not that: we’re changing, we’ve got to turn the page and embrace where we’re going. But we do have a large hand in defining what our new definition of authenticity is, and that doesn’t mean we throw out the original version of why we all love it here … If any city can become a metropolis and still keep its soul, I believe Austin, Texas, is that city.”