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Colorblind selection process leads to complaints about result

Wednesday, January 23, 2002 by

The Arts Commission has approved contracts for three artists to design work for the expanded George Washington Carver Museum and Library.

It is part of the city’s Art in Public Places (AIPP) program, the city-funded initiative that takes one percent of the cost of city-backed construction projects and spends it on public art. After an extensive review of 28 artists who submitted work, a selection panel came up with a list of seven artists that was eventually pared down to three.

Unfortunately, none of those artists—chosen to commemorate the contributions of the African-American community at Austin’s first public library—are African-American.

“If 15 black artists applied, not one of those would get it,” African-American artist Deborah Roberts, who sat on the predominantly African-American selection panel, told the commissioners. “The theory out there is that we don’t get a choice because we don’t get a chance.” So no matter how much publicity the Art in Public Places group puts out on the project, African-American artists just won’t apply. Most of them have jobs. They don’t have the time to pursue what they consider to be a fruitless venture. Many don’t have the funds to put together the kind of polished proposals their white counterparts can, Roberts said.

Commissioner Maxine Barkan said the city’s efforts had to go beyond brochures and announcements. The lack of applications—only a quarter of those who applied for the Carver project were African-American—was really an issue of trust. “As long as there is no trust, we’re going to be faced with this any time we have a project,” Barkan said. “It’s a hard and painful process to build harmony, but it’s a benefit to all of us to do it.”

The choice of the commission—which Chair Andrea Bryant described as “the compromise that makes no one happy”—was to carve $20,600 out of the $70,000 art budget and hand it directly to the Carver curator and the Friends of Carver Library. If all goes as planned, the Friends of Carver will be allowed to take the money and directly commission or buy artwork, AIPP Administrator Martha Peters said. The group could choose to offer an invitational or provide a direct commission.

The Friends of Carver Library will submit a process for disbursement of the funds to the Arts Commission by Feb. 6. Peters said the short timeline was needed because so much of the artwork is being incorporated into the architecture of the project, which will include a new library and the expansion of the museum.

The Arts Commission stressed its continued commitment to public input on the work of the artists already selected for the Carver project. When the vote was taken on the plan, Commissioners Bryant, Bruce Willenzik and Max Ziegler voted in favor. Commissioners Pamela Cunningham and Barkan voted against the proposal. Commissioners Bobbie Enriquez, Eduardo Benavides and Bertha Martinez were absent. The total amount of the money set aside for the Carver project was $100,000. Approximately $30,000 will be used to cover AIPP staff costs.

The Carver community went so far as to circulate a petition opposing the project. Willenzik stressed the need to improve communication with the community. A subcommittee on special populations, headed by Cunningham, will review any changes in policy the Arts Commission might consider to address the problem.

Members of the Zoning and Platting Commission got a preview of the battle shaping up over the new location for the Cedar Door bar Tuesday night, but decided to postpone hearing the case until February 26th.

The new location planned for the well-known bar would be in the 1600 block of Toomey Road, in South Austin near the Pecan Grove RV Park. The owner was forced to relocate the bar after losing his lease on land at 910 W Cesar Chavez during the debate over plans by Lumbermen’s Investment Corporation to develop property in the area. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 28, 2001.) Owner Gus Koerner had worked out an arrangement with property owner Susan Toomey Frost to move the bar to a new location near Barton Springs Road, and city staff has recommended approval of a zoning change for the lot from CS to CS-1-CO.

By law, the owner of the bar will be required to get a waiver for alcohol sales due to the close proximity of a private school and day care center. Parents and representatives of the Parkside Community School requested an indefinite postponement of the zoning change, saying they hadn’t been consulted about the liquor permit. “We have never been contacted by the applicant,” said Anne Wynne, who has two children attending the school. Wynne is also an attorney and one-time member of the Texas Transportation Commission. “I don’t think you necessarily have to involve all the parents, but the owner of the school . . . I would think that you would start with a discussion about whether they were willing to grant the waiver. We don’t know about parking, we don’t know about hours. We’re not informed at all.” Commission Chair Betty Baker pointed out that all property owners within 300 feet had been notified of the requested zoning change in accordance with city ordinances.

Jim Bennett, representing the applicant, told commissioners that the property owners had been notified and the operators of the school were aware of the case. “The property owner had met twice with the director of the school and was given assurances that they would not oppose this application that’s before you,” Bennett said. The liquor license, Bennett said, could be addressed separately from the zoning case. “It would be inappropriate to file for a waiver at this time because we don’t have the zoning. The waiver is a part of the alcoholic beverage process.”

Commissioners granted Bennett’s request to set a definite date for the case to be heard, but also offered some criticism of the application. “I have been out to the site and I can not comprehend where you will have parking for the Cedar Door,” said Baker. “You have a lot of questions to answer.”

If the operators of the school continue their opposition, they will likely be relying on city ordinances and state law designed to prevent bars near schools, day care centers and churches. Austin City Code prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages within 300 feet of a public school or day care center. The ordinance also provides two exceptions: The bar owner can request a waiver from the operator of the school or day care, or the City Council can grant a waiver independently if it determines the prohibition “is not effective or necessary”.

The city ordinance specifically mentions public schools and day care centers, but not private schools such as Parkside. A recently passed state law, HB 688, authored by State Rep. Beverly Woolley, includes language allowing the governing body of a city to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages within 300 feet of a private school. The law was written partly in response to a case in which a Catholic girls high school in downtown Houston protested the issuance of a liquor license to a man who wanted to open a sports bar near that city’s Enron Field (the text of the law is available at Either way, the decision on the waiver for the liquor license would rest with the City Council, not the Zoning and Platting Commission.

Mauro helps Heckler . . . Folks in County Commissioner Pct. 2 began receiving taped phone calls from former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro yesterday endorsing Jeff Heckler. Heckler is running against Commissioner Karen Sonleitner. Mauro’s message says his friend has worked with the SOS Alliance and against Longhorn Pipeline. The pipeline runs through Pcts.4 and 3, but is symbolic of overall environmental concerns . . . Some Democratic clubs endorse . . . Last night’s forum for Democratic candidates saw Democrats from across the city seeking approval from a variety of groups, based loosely on geography. However, only South Austin and South Austin Tejanos actually took a vote. Members from central and University of Texas neighborhoods, as well as west and northside neighborhoods will have a chance to vote during the first week of February, according to candidates’ representatives attending last night’s forum . . . Single-member district panel . . . Council Member Will Wynn, Richard Murray of the Center for Public Policy in Houston and Bill Kaufman, president of Kaufman and Associates of San Antonio, will address the Real Estate Council of Austin’s monthly luncheon crowd at the Four Seasons from 11:30 to 1:30pm today . . . For the record . . . Zoning and Platting Commissioner Diana Castañeda asked Stratus Properties to put in writing its promise to put a flashing traffic signal on FM 1826 if TxDOT approves it. Castañeda, who voted in favor of a zoning change for Stratus’ Bear Lake PUD on Jan. 8 (see In Fact Daily, Jan. 9, 2002), read a letter from Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong into the record at last night’s ZAP meeting. Representatives of the company had agreed to pay for the signal during the Jan. 8 meeting, but the commitment did not make it into the motion that was finally approved. The purpose of the signal is to make the roadway safer, a big issue with nearby neighbors . . . Round Rock zoning hearing tonight . . . Round Rock’s new zoning ordinance is the topic of a public hearing in City Council Chambers tonight at 7pm. For more information, visit the city’s web site at . . . Have music, seeking signatures . . . Council Members Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman are throwing a big party at Antone’s, 213 W. 5th Street, from 6 to 9pm Sunday to help bring in more signatures, and maybe some money to pay those gathering the names. Tickets are priced at $10, more than a bargain for the lineup of Ruben Ramos, Los Jazz Vatos, Patrice Pike, George Devore, Lisa Tingle, Shannon Sahm, Jo Carroll Pierce, Joe Ely, Monte Montgomery and others.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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