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Arts groups line up for city venue assistance funds

Monday, July 3, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

It appears competition will be thick among local arts groups looking to get a piece of the $200,000 the city has made available to keep those groups from being priced out of the studios and other buildings they call home.

The money, which was diverted from unspent funds in the city’s Music Venue Assistance Program, will now be used to help arts spaces cover costs for improvements to address city code violations that threaten buildings’ continued use or rent increases beyond what a group can afford.

At a meeting Thursday to discuss the Art Space Assistance Program, more than 50 representatives from various nonprofit arts groups listened to the parameters of the program and asked questions about how to improve their chances for receiving funds.

Among the basic guidelines:

– the money is only available to nonprofit arts organizations that have been displaced or are under threat of displacement as of Jan. 1, 2016
– groups with a three-year lease are eligible for up to $50,000 in tenant improvement funds (with a 50 percent match), or $35,000 in rent stipend money. Groups without a three-year lease must submit a three-year business plan and narrative demonstrating how the grant money could benefit them
applications, which are due Aug. 1, will be evaluated based on a combination of criteria including: urgency, length of lease term, demonstration of project readiness and expected project performance, and overall financial stability

Program administrators realize they won’t be able to help all of the Austin arts groups facing facilities concerns as rents increase and development pressures mount, saying in the program outline that the Economic Development Department “anticipates overwhelming demand for the funds.”

T.J. Owens, the program’s manager, said the heavily attended introductory meeting shows how much need there is among the city’s arts groups.

“We’re happy it unfolded that way and we got a good response because that lets you know there’s a real need out there,” he said. “With what we do this time we hope to put together a solid case for the future, which will be helped if we can show the positive impact these groups have in their communities.”

Owens said the applications will let the city determine how much need there is in dollar value terms citywide, which can help in efforts to secure more funding in the future.

Lulu Flores, chair of the Arts Commission, said she hears regularly from arts groups that are dealing with rent increases of 25 percent or more and that the city is heading toward a “critical point” of losing many of the artists and creatives that have defined Austin over the past four decades.

“The incredible interest we saw shows the need, and we’ve already seen quite a few closures recently,” she said. “This fund will give us some info on what’s out there in terms of need. We definitely could use some heroes and sheroes to step forward and help financially for the greater good.”

Flores said she also plans to renew the push made by both the Arts Commission and the Music Commission to have city staff compile a list of all city property and facilities that are currently underutilized and could be put to use as temporary homes for endangered arts groups.

Heads of selected arts spaces are greeting the program with a positive outlook, though some at Thursday’s meeting worried the guidelines could be too strict to help some organizations in need.

“As the director of a space, it’ll be incredibly helpful to do a fundraising ask when it’s done as part of a match for city funds,” said Zac Traeger, director of the Museum of Human Achievement arts space. “The most optimistic part of me is just hoping that the first year is successful and that (the program) can help some groups who really need it.”

Photo by Gideon Tsang made available through a Creative Commons license.

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