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Arts, music proponents push for bond money to help existing groups

Friday, April 5, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

A coalition of more than 20 arts and music groups has called on the city to use $12 million in creative spaces bond money on multiple properties that would be used by existing threatened entities.

The coalition known as Supporting Preserving Austin’s Creative Ecosystem, or SPACE, submitted a four-page memo in February outlining six main points for how the city should allocate the money voters approved in November for the preservation and creation of arts and music spaces.

The coalition, which includes organizations such as Mosaic Sound Collective, Museum of Human Achievement, Fusebox Festival and Rude Mechanicals, offered the memo as a working group from the city’s arts and music commissions was setting up the process and searching for community input on what needs the bond money should be used to address.

“Priority should be placed on existing organizations with a demonstrated history of impact within the community,” the memo reads in part. “Currently operating creative spaces in the city are in crisis. We know that the city understands the contribution of these struggling spaces in ‘keeping Austin weird’ as a vibrant, unique place and advancing our reputation as ‘the live music capital of the world,’ and wants to help these groups stay in place.”

Among the coalition’s suggestions are creating below-market, long-term leases for arts and music groups at city-owned facilities, using the money as a component of larger public-private partnerships that could benefit arts groups with space offerings, and creating a cultural trust to use bond money and other revenues for ongoing land acquisition.

Framing those recommendations is the requirement that the city’s bond advisory and legal staff have stated in various memos that the bond money would need to be used to acquire or improve property owned by the city, and that proposals involving use of city property stand a far higher chance of clearing legal hurdles needed to move forward.

Monday’s Music Commission discussion on the bond funding centered on how the groups can go about gathering ideas from the community that will meet the legal criteria for how the bond money can be used. One of those methods is an ongoing digital survey the city has created asking local creatives about their economic needs and how affordable and accessible creative space could increase their earning power.

A joint meeting of the arts and music commissions with public input expected to take place this quarter will help the working group move forward in its concepts, which will eventually be used to create a formal request for proposals.

Commissioner Oren Rosenthal said a years-old proposal for a brand-new cultural center was offered by city staff as an example of the kind of facility that would get easy legal approval, while the SPACE groups will need to be flexible in their operations and proposals.

The cultural center idea does seem to line up somewhat with Mayor Steve Adler’s statement last month that he hopes consideration is given to “do something big or grand” with the bond money, though Rosenthal said a cultural center built with only $12 million would be fairly modest.

“They want the city to use this money to help out existing groups that are meeting a need, and how that lines up with the directive that all this money be spent on either buildings or improvements to buildings remains to be seen,” he said. “If one or more of these organizations would rather take their chances with their own space that’s up to them, but perhaps a city-owned space could be an advantageous deal to a group with some flexibility.”

Photo by Chris McConnell made available through a Creative Commons license.

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