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Music Commission asks city to recognize African American Cultural Heritage District, add multiuse arts theater

Tuesday, September 8, 2020 by Savana Dunning

The Music Commission unanimously voted in support of a proposal to direct the city to formally recognize and develop amenities within the state-designated African American Cultural Heritage District in East Austin.

The commission approved of the main bullet points of the drafted resolution. At the heart of the proposal is the establishment of a music hub and multi-arts center within the district. Harold McMillan, founder and lead cultural history scholar for the East Austin Black History Project, presented the draft resolution to the Music Commission Wednesday, asking it to vote in support of his requests.

“We’re not just talking about a music issue here, we’re talking about a race/culture/city development issue,” McMillan said. “The city needs to revisit the African American Cultural Heritage District and make a real investment. If you promised me breakfast five days ago, you oughta get me my breakfast first, with priority.”

McMillan, who is a professional musician along with being the founder of East Austin nonprofit DiverseArts Culture Works and running the music venue Kenny Dorham’s Backyard, said his proposal is music-centric, but features many urban renewal projects designed to strengthen the district and attract Black creatives to live and work in the area. He is presenting the proposal to other commissions looking for support.

The 14-page draft specifies the African American Cultural Heritage District as sitting east and west between Interstate 35 and Airport Boulevard, with Manor Road to the north and bordering a path through East 11th Street, Chalmers Avenue, East Seventh Street, Chicon Street, Rosewood Avenue and Oak Springs Drive to the south, until it connects to Airport Boulevard. The document directs the city manager and other departments to update amenities, maps and signage for the area, work toward getting historic designation for district features and develop an incentives program to encourage entertainment and creative industry growth in the area.

The proposed Kenny Dorham Center would be a permanent, long-term capital investment owned by the city, featuring outdoor and indoor performance spaces, meeting rooms, studios, office spaces, an art gallery, a miniature museum and affordable residencies on the top levels.

McMillan also requests that two parcels of city-owned land in East Austin be designated for cultural or artistic uses, or potentially as a location for the proposed arts center.

Commissioner Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone motioned to support the main bullet points, along with supporting documents, which received unanimous approval.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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