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Chad Swiatecki is a 20-year journalist who relocated to Austin from his home state of Michigan in 2008. He most enjoys covering the intersection of arts, business and local/state politics. He has written for Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Daily News, Texas Monthly, Austin American-Statesman and many other regional and national outlets.
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Extra bond requests – $65M and counting – bring worry for cultural centers
Requests for additional funds for cultural and arts needs in a bond proposal expected to be voted on in November are causing worry from community groups that sticker shock could put much-needed funding at risk.
Some of those concerns bubbled up at Monday’s meeting of the Arts Commission, during discussion on possibly linking requests from that body and the Music Commission for $40 million to fund one or more new “hub” facilities for local artists and musicians threatened by disappearing performance space.
Those requests come on top of $25 million requested by the advisory board for the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, as well as the $67 million recommended by the Bond Election Advisory Task Force to go to four cultural centers and the Mexic-Arte Museum.
During discussion on the matter, Clifford Gillard, a member of the African American Resource Advisory Commission, said the Arts Commission should halt any action on its requests. He said a group of concerned residents is planning a request for more bond funding for the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. Currently, that facility is recommended to receive $7.5 million from the bond.
“We are concerned that these additional asks for a lot of money would, to put it mildly, cut some of our chances to be funded, and we believe if the Music and Arts commissions are going to ask for anything, they should ask for support for the current cultural facilities,” Gillard said. “From a layperson’s point of view, we know we are asking for monies and we have to sell this to the general public. I think it might be a better approach for the Arts and Music commissions to support the cultural arts facilities that exist today.”
The total recommendations from the bond task force are for $851 million, with City Council expected to vote on the final size and composition of the proposal in early August. With that deadline approaching, groups have begun making their case for extra bond funds.
Taken together, the new requests nearly double the task force’s recommendation for cultural funding.
Reached by phone Tuesday, MACC Board Co-Chair Anna Maciel said her group is growing worried that Council members may start mixing and matching cultural funding priorities rather than including all the requests for more than $130 million in the final proposal. Currently, the MACC is recommended to receive $15 million in the bond package.
“There’s concern when these other commissions ask to add more money,” she said. “Let’s see what our Council members will do, but I will be sure people are there when Council decides. We need responses to our (request) letter, and I’ve been having trouble getting an appointment with Mayor Adler to hear him tell me what solution he has for the MACC.”
Arts commissioners ended up voting 7-2, with one abstention, to express support for the Music Commission request, but asked Council to make the funding for the existing cultural centers the priority in its decision-making process.
“We are supporting the cultural facilities, we’re continuing to support that recommendation,” Chair Lulu Flores said. “There’s a lot of massaging that has to happen because the bond is already higher, and we’re looking at competing proposals, but we don’t want to compete.”
The resolution keeps the requests for the two new hub facilities separate but in support of each other rather than combining for one $40 million ask, leaving Council to decide what is most important and balance the size of the bond request with residents’ tolerance for a property tax increase of undetermined size.
Some commissioners said that uncertainty may cause the existing cultural centers – the MACC, Carver, Asian American Resource Center and the Dougherty Arts Center – to receive less than initially suggested.
“I do see a reason for the Carver and MACC to come back and ask for more than the recommended amount.” Commissioner Alissa McCain said.
“I know that there are asks that we are not aware of, but we are aware that the Carver and the MACC may ask for another $30 million to $40 million between them, and I’m not sure we can bear a $150 million bond on this. And I am concerned it’s going to create a situation where no one is getting enough money to make the impact they need to make. I’m afraid it’s getting a little out of hand on the cultural center side.”
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