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Wednesday, September 12, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Don’t expect harmony from groups attached to $128M push for creative, culture centers

While the city’s cultural centers and the disparate arts and music communities will win or lose collectively in November when voters decide whether to approve $128 million in bond funding, it appears those groups will be working separately to campaign and educate voters over the next two months.

That’s the indication from a recent board meeting for the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center and Monday’s meeting of the city’s Music Commission, where both groups discussed what’s at stake and how they’ll work to reach the public.

The stakes are high for all groups attached to the ballot question, which is one of seven bond issues that collectively represent $925 million in new facilities and infrastructure spending throughout the city. The MACC stands to receive $27 million from the issue if it is approved, while another $12 million for music-related creative spaces was added to the language late in the process by City Council. Those numbers represent far less than what each had initially requested, though all involved called the funding critical.

“It’s not what we need, but we will take whatever we can get at this point,” MACC Advisory Board Chair Anna Maciel said at last week’s meeting while explaining the bond funds would go toward the $37 million projected cost of expanding the space-constrained center.

“We need to get people to vote for the bond: Because it’s going to be laid out in different categories on the ballot, we need to make sure we understand and we can make other people understand that they need to vote for the proposition that we are under,” she said. “We really need to get some kind of a flyer saying this is the proposal we will be under, and at least explain how people can help us as cultural centers. If we work together, anything is possible.”

During that discussion Maciel praised the working group made up of representatives from the cultural centers and arts and music boards to present a combined bond request to Council. But the MACC board was focused on how the board can work to reach its community, with Maciel noting that “At the last minute, the Arts and Music commissions decided they wanted a piece of the pie as well.”

Gavin Garcia, chair of the Music Commission, said there is likely more to be gained by the cultural centers working with their communities while arts and music groups do the same since the combined working group stirred up questions of how dedicated the city’s creative communities are to equity for long-standing ethnic communities.

“(Working together) has many difficult hurdles before us. … Our efforts to engage the cultural centers chiefly led to debate on what our mission was,” he said. “The question came up, ‘Where have you been all these years before this moment?’”

As a result of that gulf, Garcia said the Music Commission is working to join forces with the newly created Music Moves Austin nonprofit and its plans to educate and mobilize voters.

The commission is working to hold its next meeting on Oct. 1 at Antone’s nightclub prior to Music Moves Austin’s first of two nights of City Council and mayoral candidate forums.

And the Arts and Music commissions are also planning to hold a joint meeting on Sept. 24 at Mosaic Sound Collective, with the principal matter of discussion being the bond issue and possible ways to put the $12 million for music spaces to use in preserving financially threatened venues.

Garcia said the emergence of the latest nonprofit looking to mobilize Austin musicians politically is expected to fill a role that Music Commission members can’t undertake themselves.

“The point of municipal advisers for music is that we have the purview to discuss the economic climate with Council members. But that’s a one-on-one thing, where Music Moves Austin will have autonomy to approach all issues with a collective voice,” he said.

“Having our meeting ahead of their candidate forum will be symbolic in many ways, with the commission holding a city meeting at a music venue. That evening will be a signature moment where those two bodies combine their efforts. If that doesn’t take place then we will not have a collective voice at City Hall.”

Photo by Billy Hathorn assumed (based on copyright claims). [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Music Commission: The Austin Music Commission guides city practices on music development issues, including the SxSW music festival.

Mexican American Cultural Center Advisory Board: The Mexican American Cultural Center Advisory Board advises the city of Austin on the cultural center’s operation.

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