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City opens $2M grant program to assist creative sector nonprofits

Thursday, July 15, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

The city has spun up another emergency relief program for arts organizations, with $2 million in federal aid available for nonprofit groups connected to local arts and cultural communities.

The Arts & Culture Non-Profit Relief Grant will provide 100 grants of $20,000 to local groups in the creative sector that have had their fundraising and events revenue severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Applications for the grants opened yesterday and close Aug. 2, with informational webinars scheduled for today and full guidelines for applicants available at

City Council approved the funding for the program in June, using money provided to the city from the American Rescue Plan Act. From that same round of federal money, Council has also allocated $6 million for the general arts ecosystem, $4 million for the city’s music ecosystem and up to $1 million in funds from the Austin Civilian Conservation Corps that can be used for efforts related to homelessness or the creative sector.

City staffers gave a preview of the grant program at last month’s Arts Commission meeting, noting it was created to be easier to apply for and allow more flexibility in how the funds can be used.

Arts groups filed as a 501(c)3 or 509(a) are eligible, and must have a two-year history of operation as of the opening of the application period.

Eligible applicants will be evaluated using a scoring matrix to determine winners, rather than via a lottery system as was used in some previous Covid relief grant programs.

Groups with a significant presence in or connection to historically underserved communities in Austin are strongly encouraged to apply.

“Some of the biggest changes from the previous rounds of nonprofit funding for this (round) is that it’s not reimbursement driven, so organizations do not have to provide receipts during the application period,” said Laura Odegaard, program manager for the city’s Cultural Arts Division.

“This way it is easier for the organizations to apply faster, and takes away the barrier from previous grants that didn’t allow for reimbursement of sales revenue, donations and things like that. There’s also not going to be a lottery system for this grant, which creates more transparency, supports those with an urgent need and allows us to lead with equity.”

Last year Council included nonprofit groups of all kinds in a $6 million grant program funded by the federal CARES Act, though only $1 million was allocated toward the creative sector. Those awards also had varying amounts and were capped at $20,000 each, with more than 160 groups applying for that round of funding.

During discussion on the program at last month’s meeting, Arts Commissioner Amy Mok said the city’s creative nonprofit groups have been severely crippled by limits on event capacity and public gatherings in general.

She said the groups need as much help as possible to get back on solid financial footing.

“We need to provide some funding for these organizations to backfill their financial cushion because so many of their resources have been lost because of the income loss,” she said.

“A lot of these organizations … whatever cushion they may have had has been depleted down to the bone. From the business perspective it is really hard to not have that reserve amount or the cash flow that is needed to run a business.”

The local creative sector was one of four areas of priority Council identified when deciding how to spend ARPA money. Other top concerns included homelessness, public health, workforce development, child care, and direct emergency assistance for individuals in need.

Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, deputy director of the Economic Development Department, said applicants will be scored based on the equity and diversity makeup of their board and leadership positions, the overall size of the group and the level of financial urgency.

Once the scoring is completed, awards will be administered by the Better Business Bureau in descending order based on those scores.

Holt-Rabb said Council members made a point to set aside federal money for creative nonprofits, which have already faced financial challenges because of the growing costs for land, property taxes and other factors related to affordability.

“They’re still hurting and this sector is critical to Austin because the creative community is the secret sauce that everybody wants,” she said.

“Council’s resolution gave us the specific directive to dedicate funding to nonprofits for creatives to the tune of $2 million. We took what we learned from the first nonprofit grant as well as feedback we’ve received from the community to release this new arts nonprofit grant program.”

Photo by R.L. Cheng/CC BY-SA 4.0.

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