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With $12M for creative spaces, arts/music group starts shaping allocation process

Monday, November 19, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

With $12 million for acquisition of creative space approved by voters earlier this month, members of the city’s music and arts commissions will spend the rest of November generating ideas for how to best use the money for saving and adding arts spaces all over the city.

A working group made up of members of both commissions is working to convene for the first time following the passage on Nov. 6 of Proposition B, a city ballot question that provided $128 million to local cultural centers and libraries, including $12 million for space acquisition and improvements.

The bond proposal didn’t prescribe a process for how to allocate that money, which was included as an attempt to give some financial cover to financially distressed arts spaces facing higher rents as property values across the city continue to increase. That means the recommendations of the working group will be the first step in establishing the process for how local arts and music-related groups can apply for and receive some of the funding.

Jaime Castillo, chair of the arts commission, said that the group’s report at each of the commissions’ December meetings will help to shape the decision-making for the limited amount of funds.

Music Commissioner Oren Rosenthal, who is a member of the working group, said transparency and equity will be the most important components of the allocation process that could mimic a traditional request-for-proposal process widely used by the city to select vendors and contractors.

Rosenthal said criteria for selection he wants included are the impact a given project or organization could have on improving the state of arts and music interests, and meeting the needs outlined in the city’s Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus. That document was drafted in 2016 in response to the growing problem of Austin’s creative workers and organizations being priced out of the city.

“I’ve been in favor of giving an RFP to groups who believe they can advance the goals of the omnibus in some significant way, with city staff providing the assistance needed in administering the proposal process,” he said. “We want everything to be out in the open with public presentations about their plans and how their goals help with regard to the omnibus.”

Advocacy groups in the music and arts communities had expressed concern prior to the bond vote over how the $12 million would be divided. Rosenthal said it’s not likely the working group will establish a quota or predetermined amount to go toward music or arts. He said the better approach will be considering the impact each submitted proposal could make on the creative ecosystem as a whole.

“If there are ways to invest the funding in some uses that provides a high return to arts and music, that’s preferable to saying we’re going to allocate so much to art and so much to music,” he said. “The beauty is we’ll get to see all kinds of people and organizations present to use what their vision could be.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen, who has made preservation of creative and cultural space a priority over the past year, said the space acquisition funding could be used in a variety of ways.

“I am excited that the voters passed this bond and looking forward to using this to help preserve creative spaces in Austin,” she said. “Our stakeholders will help identify the best way to do this. Options might be helping with down payments, purchase price and/or (the) city purchasing property. Our artists/musicians make a special contribution to our community and the bottom-line goal is that we preserve options for our artists and musicians to contribute their works within the city of Austin.”

Photo by Ed Yourdon made available by a Creative Commons license

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