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Arts, culture groups joining forces for bond request likely to exceed $100M

Thursday, May 10, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Representatives from the city’s three ethnic cultural centers will join forces with members of the Arts and Music commissions to ask City Council for a bond package request that could add up to more than $120 million.

At Monday’s meeting, the Music Commission voted unanimously to form a working group with members from the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center and the Asian American Resource Center – and their respective quality-of-life commissions – to attempt to combine a half dozen separate bond requests into one unified proposal.

Their time to act will be short since City Council is expected to decide in early August on the size and composition of the November request for infrastructure, which is currently recommended to total $851 million.

It is expected that the working group will meet through June to arrive at a total dollar amount for all arts and cultural needs in the bond election, with a unified request going to Council ahead of its first meeting after the July recess.

The push came about because the city’s Bond Election Advisory Task Force recommended in February that the three ethnic cultural centers, the Dougherty Arts Center and Mexic-Arte Museum be allocated $67.5 million from the total package.

Requests for additional funding began materializing almost as soon as those recommendations were released, with the MACC Advisory Board asking for $25 million on top of its recommended $15 million. Soon after, the Arts Commission asked for $25 million for a new campus to address a growing scarcity of performance space for local artists, and the Music Commission followed suit and asked for $15 million to create at least one music hub to serve as a focal point for the city’s music industry.

The additional requests sparked concerns among cultural leaders that too many competing interests could end up vying for too small of a pool of funds. Leaders from the MACC and Carver centers said more money is needed to pay for long-overdue expansion plans to keep up with community demand.

“(The combined) recommendation to add $40 million is going to create a big problem,” said Anna Maciel, chair of the MACC Advisory Board. “The $15 million the MACC is going to receive is just for general renovations to the existing building, and the entire phase two expansion is going to cost $37 million. How do you think this is going to go on the bond, to ask for this amount of money?”

Clifford Gillard, a member of the African American Resource Advisory Commission, said a sense of sticker shock could cause Council members to begin dividing the bond funds into smaller portions if the arts and cultural groups don’t work together to present their needs in a unified way.

“I don’t think any of us want to say don’t do what you are desiring to do, but given the climate today we feel it might be best to have the Arts and Music commissions throw their weight behind the cultural centers, empowering us to get what should have happened a long time ago,” he said. “We believe we should be getting more, and we will go after more. If we miss this opportunity, then we’re never going to get it again. We need to have a unified voice, and although the process is winding down, we still need to get that one voice.”

Music Commission members mostly acquiesced to the concern over the quickly growing bond request total and voiced their desire to help the cultural centers with their requests.

Commissioner Stuart Sullivan said he wants the city’s creative community to lend its support to preserving and growing cultural offerings in a city that is shown to have a shrinking population of black residents.

“Commitments have been made many years ago and not kept overall, and when it comes to the composition of Austin and the ability to keep it broad as opposed to very narrow … that is a serious problem,” he said.

“I don’t know how to solve it, but I think committing to the cultural communities is a good first step. Unity is a good first step. … What it means is, we all make a plan that with a little bit of bitterness in our taste understand that this is a big plan and say, ‘OK, obligations haven’t been kept, but we can allocate this much.’ Unity would be stronger if there was one overall plan rather than five or six different plans.”

Photo courtesy of the AARC Nonprofit.

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