The $12 million in bond funds was part of $128 million bond proposition voters passed with 73.6% support in 2018. The proposition was one of seven successful bond proposals wrapped into the city’s $925 million bond package. The $12 million aims to address the rapid loss of creative space owed to skyrocketing real estate costs throughout the city. Since December, the city’s music and art commissions have been meeting to create and recommend criteria on how the taxpayer-funded money would be spent.
The commissions created a joint working group, consulted with a similar outfit in San Francisco to learn what kind of criteria they developed to spend their money most effectively and worked with city staff. Commissioners said the process was arduous, and there was not always complete agreement, but after roughly a year of work the commission has developed a draft recommendation. Now, they are asking the city’s arts and music communities to weigh in on the draft before the commissions take a final vote and send the recommendation to City Council for final approval.
“I know everyone has their agenda about where the money should go—we’re not making that decision,” said Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone, Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison’s music commission appointee. “The opportunity here is to create space, not to fund programs. Go back to your community and give us feedback. Once we give [this recommendation] to City Council, that’s it.”
The recommendation drafted by the commissions focuses on creating a criteria for the city to use in grading project proposals it receives through its official procurement process. The city had asked the commissions to develop a criteria that guides the best use of the money.
The commissions’ existing draft priorities placing 40% of a proposal’s value in improving equity in the music and arts communities. It recommends the city give weight to proposals for the space that offer free or significantly reduced rates to underserved communities for a minimum of 10 hours per month or two events. It also emphasizes that organizations who apply for the money should have at least one-third of its leadership and staff made up of people from underserved groups and minorities.
Amenities are the second most important aspect of a proposal. The draft criteria aims specifically at proposals that offer flexible rehearsal space, theater capacity of at least 50 people, visual arts studios or gallery space, classroom space, or live music venues with a minimum 250-person capacity. The final aspect of the criteria is location. The proposed facilities, according to the draft, should be either in the eastern crescent between I-35 and Hwy. 183, between Lady Bird Lake and Ben White Boulevard, in downtown Austin, or between 30th Street and Hwy. 183.
Commissioners at the Nov. 16 joint meeting of the commissions emphasized the money could only be used to acquire or improve space for creative endeavors and could not be used to fund programs. The focus, they said, was to give artists of all types the opportunity to continue to create within the bounds of the city.
“Austin is so lucky that we have so many talented people who want to be here,” said Amy Wong Mok, the CEO of the Asian-American Cultural Center. “We should try to keep them here. I’m very happy to have equity, again and again, being mentioned in the proposal.”
The window to provide feedback on the draft criteria closes Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. ahead of the art commission’s Dec. 9 meeting. Although commissioners said they would look at the recommendations from the community for the Dec. 9 meeting, they said it is unlikely they would make any final approvals on recommendations before January.