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Creative ‘hubs’ requests moving forward for $40M bond ask

Thursday, April 12, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

The questions surrounding a movement to build multiple creative “hubs” – or possibly one single campus – for Austin’s arts and music communities are becoming somewhat clearer as proponents of those groups continue talks ahead of an August decision on the size and makeup of the city’s fall general obligation proposal.

The city’s Arts and Music commissions separately voted in recent weeks to request additional bond money. The cost of these requests stands at $40 million, with both bodies wanting to purchase or renovate property to stem the growing problem of local theaters, studios and venues being redeveloped or becoming too expensive to host low-revenue-generating arts events.

Currently, those requests are headed to City Council as separate documents, but members of both groups and some city leaders are discussing how to possibly merge them into one item for Council to consider as an addition to the recommended bond package that sits at $851 million. It is expected the Council will vote on Aug. 9 on what to include in the proposal that residents will vote on in November.

“There’s not a firm decision at this point but we want to support each other as much as we can, and maybe that happens as a single document,” Music Commissioner Graham Reynolds said of the Music and Arts commissions’ requests, which are for $15 million and $25 million, respectively.

“Whether their ask on this and ours combines into one campus for all is an option,” he said. “When the Arts Commission made their ask, we said we should ask as well because we’ve needed funding for these things, and this is an area the community has some consensus on.”

The hub or adaptive reuse concept would provide a large amount of space that could be used for a variety of creative purposes. Arts Commission members proposed rehearsal, performance and studio space available to all artists including musicians, while the Music Commission’s concept includes recording and rehearsal studios, possible live music venues, and general use areas that could serve for meeting and educational efforts related to growing the Austin music industry.

Reynolds said the hub concept is supported by 2016’s Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus, which lists creative hubs as the first strategy to help improve the earning power of the local artist community. And the Cultural Arts Division’s proposal to the city’s Bond Election Advisory Task Force for what an adaptive reuse campus could look like gives Council members a framework to discuss when considering whether to add $40 million to the bond.

“There are many ways a hub can be executed and be effective, and as needs evolve, what this will look like is going to be part of the community discussion,” he said. “You look at Austin Studios and the good things that happen there, which is what comes when lots of people are together and their needs overlap.”

Reynolds said the possibility of a public/private structure for one or more hubs makes it possible that the privately funded Mosaic Sound Collective in East Austin could be involved in discussions for how to execute the hub initiative if it is successful.

For that to happen, Council would have to vote in favor of either adding to the recommended bond package or swapping out other public infrastructure needs that have been identified as priorities.

Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Ann Kitchen have taken up the causes of music and arts space preservation and said support for the creative community was among the whole Council’s top priorities in recent strategic planning meetings.

Still, Adler said adding money to the bond proposal that will add to an increase in local property taxes is a move that will involve “lots of discussion.”

“Part of our brand as a city is built on being creative, and preserving a space for the creative community is an important part of that,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we tried to exceed the amount of (bond) money that’s there already. Initially, we thought $825 million was going to be the number, but we’ve already passed that, and my belief is it will be in excess of ($851 million).”

Kitchen said she expects the Arts and Music commissions to combine their requests for Council to consider ahead of the July recess, but she said it will likely be determined in the future if the money would pay for one or multiple spaces.

“I want to see what a joint proposal looks like,” she said. “I don’t think (Council members) expect to see a fully fleshed-out plan because the bond is a way to provide money for things that somewhat have to be determined. An important question is, what level of funding will the public support? That’s the question that’s on everyone’s mind.”

Photo by Riisipuuro [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons.

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