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Groups eyeing $12M for creative spaces learn ‘process is complicated’

Wednesday, February 27, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Organizations with designs on how best to use the $12 million the city has pledged to preserve creative spaces will likely have to clear a complicated set of legal requirements before any of the money is released this fall.

That was the takeaway from Monday’s meeting of the Arts Commission, where members of a working group discussed how the process of allocating the money will unfold in the coming months. The discussion included the likelihood that all properties receiving bond money would need to be city-owned, which would likely eliminate arts groups occupying privately owned buildings.

The legal parameters for how the money can be used will be included in a survey expected to be released by the city next month.

That survey and public input from a joint meeting of the music and arts commissions in late March will go a long way toward determining how the working group shapes its final recommendation, which will need to be vetted and approved by the city’s legal department. The recommendation will need to be approved by each commission and then forwarded to City Council for a formal resolution to release the funds, likely by September or October.

“Process is complicated, so bear with us,” Arts Commissioner Krissi Reeves said. “We feel the sense of urgency that the community feels. We’re taking that into consideration. Our goal is to get our final recommendations drafted by April and then vote on final recommendations in May, so the funds can be released in 2019.”

City Council included the $12 million in bond funds for creative spaces as part of the November election, as a nod to the precarious state of arts organizations around the city that are facing higher rents or seeing their longtime homes sold for redevelopment.

While that bond funding was easily approved as part of a larger proposition for cultural spaces around the city, the process to use and distribute the money wasn’t clearly spelled out. A January memo from the legal department gave the working group its guidelines, which could make many ideas submitted by the public non-starters because of the requirement that the city own any property that would receive funding.

“Hopefully by laying that out and letting people know the parameters in the survey prior to the meeting, it won’t be that we’re trying to put a round peg in a square hole for something that we legally can’t consider,” Commissioner Lulu Flores said.

Earlier at Monday’s meeting, representatives from area arts groups offered their ideas and in some cases openly lobbied the commission to consider their groups as recipients for some of the funds.

Michelle Voss, a board member for CoLab Projects, said the nonprofit is moving ahead with the purchase and creation of an East Austin studio space that would benefit from the city’s assistance.

“Here we have an opportunity that is concrete, unique and urgent,” she said. “This will provide 15 to 20 affordable artist studios, exhibition space and education space, and would be the only space owned by a nonprofit arts organization in Austin. We could use these funds today. There are opportunities that will be coming before the Music Commission and Arts Commission to determine how these monies will be spent, maybe as soon as this year, so we’re here to say please, because we could use the money this year on a concrete project.”

John Riedie, chief executive officer of Austin Creative Alliance, said the best use of the money would be the creation of a cultural trust that could regenerate its funds in perpetuity and grow to help more groups with donations from the private sector.

“We want to see these funds used to preserve existing physical assets,” he said. “We want to see the funds invested in organizations that have the opportunity to buy their spaces like Mosaic Sound Collective and Vortex theater, or have land and shovel-ready plans like CoLab and Austin Playhouse. We can create a self-generating fund that preserves existing assets and will be ready to help assets that will be at risk in the future, or new projects.”

Photo by Cpl. R. Logan Kyle.

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