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Long Center seeks to act as administrative hub for new creative consortium

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

Executives with the Long Center for the Performing Arts want the facility to serve as an administrative hub for local arts groups, providing shared services that could lower costs and eventually bring in major corporate donations to benefit member organizations.

At this month’s Arts Commission meeting, Cory Baker, CEO of the Long Center, presented the current plan for what is being described as Austin’s Creative Consortium, which has been in the works for most of this year. Baker said the concept will be discussed with focus groups of artists and representatives of possible member groups over the next three months.

While the nonprofit would operate within the Long Center, it would be created as a separate entity, with member groups deciding on its actions and functions.

Potential initial services could include human resources support and group health insurance plans, financial and accounting services, pooled purchasing, shared office and venue space, and ticketing and box office capabilities.

Baker said Pittsburgh’s arts community has seen the positive impacts of a hub system that supports smaller and new arts groups that need help with the business end of their operations.

“A lot of other cities have infrastructure and support services to create a sustainable creative sector, and that’s something that’s not been formally put together in Austin,” she said. “As a creative and as a producer you often become the accounting and HR person along with all these other things, and it’s to the detriment of not only your art, but your ability to be competitive in the marketplace.”

Baker said longer-term services could include collaborative fundraising and marketing, business development and strategic planning, and venue services. She didn’t disclose the cost associated with the initial plan, but said the Long Center is seeking funding for a three-year pilot program, with long-term funding coming from fees on tickets, membership dues, grants and donations.

After the focus group period is concluded, Baker hopes a cohort of initial members will come together to begin creating the bylaws and early offerings for the consortium.

The Arts Commission took no action on the presentation, but commissioners expressed support for the idea as a resource to help arts groups and eventually individual artists who need help managing their careers.

“I do think about the education component here, and people learning about how to become a business and how to better operate in terms of sustainability,” Commissioner Celina Zisman said. “I think about things like the creative worker grants from the city and how we served sound engineers and lighting techs and others that needed some help. Understanding that our arts ecosystem is about venues and these larger organizations, but it’s on the backs of the individuals that make the arts world go round here … keeping that in mind as a priority I’m going to advocate for individuals to get support.”

Commissioner Heidi Schmalbach said the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on local arts groups showed the need for a stronger support system for the creative sector.

“When the pandemic first started there was this need for individuals and small organizations to access accounting services specifically to help navigate the PPP program,” she said.“What I think is so exciting about the consortium idea is that those larger organizations who already did have accounting people on their staff were giving open hours for individuals and organizations that were seeking that out. You could really work out the efficiencies from working together as an ecosystem and the possibilities of what’s possible when we rely on each other is really exciting.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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