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Monday, October 8, 2018 by Ryan Thornton
City grants crucial funding to arts organizations
Austin’s art advocates are breathing a little easier since Thursday afternoon, when City Council approved a resolution to award crucial funds to eligible arts organizations for Fiscal Year 2018-19.
A total of $8,602,688 will be distributed among the organizations listed here.
The awards were requested by the city’s Arts Commission because of the lack of an appropriate notice given to the organizations concerning their drastically reduced budgets compared to last year. Without any indication to the contrary, many of them had been going forth with their plans under the assumption that the money granted to them last year would be there again the coming year.
“We have a growing city, we have many incredible arts organizations that are also growing, and so I think for us it was really the issue of notification and time,” said Cookie Ruiz, member of the Austin Arts Advocacy Coalition.
The funding cuts were a result of hundreds of younger arts organizations applying for funds for the first time and a simultaneous dip in available dollars from the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax, the source of annual arts funding in Austin.
Because there is no set number of organizations that can receive aid, the spike in applicants meant a smaller piece of the pie for everyone.
“We have a process that I’m glad that we’re revisiting … that funds 98 to 99 percent of the applications,” said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan.
“A bunch of applications came in to a process that basically funds every application that comes in, but the money didn’t grow as quickly as the applications grew, and so you ended up with this confluence of factors that led to this.”
This was the result of a collaborative effort in the city to generate more diversity in the arts and encourage the growth of younger arts organizations.
Council Member Ora Houston of District 1 mentioned specifically the role of displacement in leading to the need for more geographically and racially diverse arts groups in the city.
“One of the things I’ve been asking for for the last four years is the diversity of your boards and where you perform,” said Houston. “Some of the kids in my area can’t get to Zilker Park to see the Shakespeare company. Some of my kids don’t even know where Zilker Park is, and if they did, there’s little transportation to get there.”
Throughout the discussion, the Council members referred back to the uncomfortable issue of the available HOT money.
“For over a year I have been asking to understand about the collection of HOT taxes from STRs,” said Council Member Alison Alter, referencing Austin’s turbulent relationship with short-term rentals. “ I understand there are obstacles … but we need to understand why we can’t access this funding.”
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo emphasized the complicated legal issues surrounding much of the tax money from the STRs.
“I don’t want the public to think there’s this pot of money that we’re not accessing because we just haven’t gotten around to doing it,” she said. “It’s very complicated.”
“There’s also the issue of taxing something that’s illegal in the city and then becoming dependent on it,” added Mayor Steve Adler.
While the city deliberates on what to do with that revenue, the more than $8 million in awards will go far in helping Austin’s arts organizations survive in the meantime.
“These awards, as you have heard, will be set for two years – this year and next year – so we have a good amount of time before the next grant cycle to review our methods for awarding grants, to talk with the arts community with the goal of making the program more sustainable,” said Council Member Leslie Pool.
Council unanimously approved the resolution, with Council Member Ellen Troxclair absent.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.