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Music Commission pushes to make park sites viable for music, arts events

Monday, August 12, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Members of the Music Commission are pushing for an up-close look at city parks facilities that could be used to host music performances and other arts and cultural events in coming years. The effort is partly tied to the $12 million voters approved to provide more creative spaces throughout the city last year, with the hope that the local artistic community can meet some of its needs at existing city sites instead of using bond money for new construction.

Commissioner Oren Rosenthal is arranging a fact-finding tour of parks facilities with Parks and Recreation staff to evaluate what improvements or streamlining of city processes would need to be completed to make some sites more useful for arts and music programming. The date has not been set and there is no target list of sites, but a preliminary list from PARD of 32 parks properties with some capacity for hosting events will serve as a starting point.

The tour could overlap with early stage work by city staff to identify underused meeting and events capacity at libraries throughout the city, with a similar goal of using these spaces for arts and cultural purposes.

Rosenthal and other arts leaders said stories from groups that have experienced difficulties in booking stages or similar facilities in parks properties prompted the decision to push for the tour.

“We’ve got these great creative spaces in our parks and want to make sure that the existing creative spaces are being used properly,” he said. “We’ve heard some of them are in disrepair and it can be difficult to access some of them, so the idea is we want to have a little tour to see what they’re like.”

He added that it will cost a lot less to renovate existing spaces than to build new ones.

It is likely the tour will wind up concentrating on parks sites in East Austin, which have been identified in recent years as ripe for greater use and an answer to excessive programming at the city’s urban core parks. In 2016, the city’s Parkland Events Task Force identified Walter E. Long Park, Bolm Road Park and John Treviño Metropolitan Park as some of the sites in East Austin that could be used more frequently for events.

That goal aligns with the findings of a recent survey by the city’s Cultural Arts and Music & Entertainment divisions that found a majority of city residents want more creative spaces available in the areas east of Interstate 35 and west of U.S. Highway 183.

Rosenthal said private dollars will likely have to cover the cost of any significant upgrades at selected parks, with limited use by for-profit companies one possible strategy to generate those funds.

“There needs to be a balance with what’s in the public interest; however, if these places aren’t being used at all and are in disrepair then the balance is clearly all the way on one side, and let’s see what we can do,” he said. “If these things can turn into moneymakers for the city, then I would hope that money could be used for further development of other parks properties.”

Erica Shamaly, manager of the city’s music division, said the findings of the parks tour can add onto the eventual greater use of libraries and PARD’s Artist Access program that offers more hours of use at Dougherty Arts Center, George Washington Carver Museum, the Asian American Resource Center and Zilker Hillside Theater.

Shamaly said Rosenthal’s work to increase the use of parks space for creative events dovetails with a larger goal of making city facilities more available to the public.

“Oren wants to think of any way we can activate city facilities and resources and see if there’s anything with those facilities that need additional support so they can do that,” she said. “It’s a way for the city to look at facilities and see if there’s a way we can improve things to make them easier for creatives to use.”

Photo of Oswaldo A.B. Cantu/Pan American Recreation Center courtesy of the city of Austin.

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