Thursday, December 12, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Arts Commission renews concerns over new assistance for creative spaces

Members of the Arts Commission have stepped up their criticism of the Music and Entertainment Division and its handling of the Creative Space Assistance Program that recently announced grants totaling just over $750,000 to 26 arts and music groups around the city.

At Monday’s meeting the commission received a brief update from Music and Entertainment Division Manager Erica Shamaly about possible changes in how to administer the program’s 2020 funding round, which is expected to be announced early next year. After she explained that the guidelines for how recipients will be chosen are expected to remain the same, commission members began questioning why the music office hasn’t offered more updates or asked for input in deciding on how the applicant pool is evaluated.

CSAP is an expansion of the Arts Space Assistance Program, with the new version receiving more funding and making grants of up to $50,000 available for both for-profit and nonprofit entities active in the music or arts scene. The first round of CSAP award recipients was announced in September, shortly after the program had its funding renewed for next year’s budget.

Commissioner Lulu Flores joined other members of the commission in pushing Shamaly to allow the Arts Commission to give input in how the awards are allocated.

“What we found out was when they announced the awards and there was no previous presentation about anything to us at any time … unlike with the ASAP program where we at least got presentations in the interim about how they were developing that and at least we were updated and had an opportunity to give input,” she said. “With this coming back in January or February, there’s a very short amount of time to give input on something.”

Shamaly asked Flores and other commissioners to send their concerns to her office soon so she could assess possible changes in how the program is administered. Meghan Wells, manager of the Cultural Arts Division, said she would act as a conduit between the commission and the music office to make sure issues with the program are heard and addressed.

Other commission members said the city should have requirements for for-profit bars, nightclubs and other entities that receive funding to make sure artists are being appropriately compensated and that city money isn’t being used purely to enhance the cash flow of a struggling business.

“My biggest concern is that there is money being set aside specifically for for-profit entities, and that for-profit entities have just as much of an opportunity as nonprofit entities to get money and there is nothing being limited in terms of knowing how those for-profit entities use that funding or any sort of railings to make sure they are taking our money and using it for good,” Commissioner Bears Rebecca Fonte said.

“I have lots of frustration over being left out of the process. I don’t have any faith in these people. They just came in here and said, here’s who we gave the awards to, and by the way you don’t get a vote.”

The commission didn’t take action on the matter, in part because of frustration over whether doing so would produce any worthwhile result.

Chair Jaime Castillo said he had hoped there would be an analysis or progress report on the first year of the expanded program, so that the arts and music commissions could weigh in on possible improvements for subsequent funding years.

Asked if City Council action might be needed to revamp the program, Castillo said, “I hope not. The Music and Entertainment Division is a newer office compared to the Cultural Arts Division, so they don’t have as much experience in being stewards of public money and having advisers helping them with that. It’s a learning process, and I want them to know that we’re here to help.”

Photo by Tate English made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Arts Commission: The Arts Commission advises the Austin City Council in all arts-related matters, fosters the development of the arts, and promotes cooperation between the City and the public.

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