Austin's arts community could be in line for millions more in relief dollars this year

Austin Cultural Arts Division staff provided an update on several funding opportunities for the creative sector Oct. 18. (Screenshot via city of Austin)
Austin Cultural Arts Division staff provided an update on several funding opportunities for the creative sector Oct. 18. (Screenshot via city of Austin)

Austin Cultural Arts Division staff provided an update on several funding opportunities for the creative sector Oct. 18. (Screenshot via city of Austin)

Dozens of members of Austin's arts community could receive additional relief funding in the coming months, as a broader review of the city's traditional cultural support continues into next year.

During an Oct. 18 meeting of the Arts Commission, city Cultural Arts Division staff shared updates on a second round of relief funding likely headed out to local nonprofits in the coming months. Additionally, past recipients of city cultural funds are also expected to be in line for millions of dollars from Austin's federal American Rescue Plan Act allocation, staff said, as the pandemic continues to affect many in the arts community.

The first block of support for nonprofits is a follow-up to the city's initial round of its Arts and Culture Nonprofit Relief Grant established this spring. The $2 million program launched in the summer and sent $20,000 grants to 100 organizations citywide.

“Notifications went out, funding went out, all the good things," said Laura Odegaard, the arts division's cultural investment program manager.

Now, staff said City Council action and the commission's own requests to council for further funding could make nearly $2 million more available to around 100 additional artistic nonprofits in need. Staff are targeting council's Nov. 18 regular meeting to finalize the additional funding outline before sending the money out, Odegaard said.

A second effort backed by the city's ARPA funds is also in line for council approval as soon as Nov. 18. Developed by the Arts Commission, the plan would see previous cultural contractors—individuals and arts organizations receiving city support for their operations—get another financial boost. Any contractors who collected less than $10,000 in emergency cultural funding so far could be eligible to receive 100% of the amount they were previously contracted for, while those with $10,000 to $1 million in relief dollars could earn 85% of their contracted funds. The strategy would take up $1.86 million of Austin's ARPA total for the lower bracket of contractors and $3.44 million for the higher bracket.

Several council members have expressed a desire for quick distribution of ARPA dollars tapped for the creative sector this year, a goal shared by the arts commission and cultural division staff pending council's approval of the plan next month.

“We want this to be [a] really, really quick, out-the-door process," Odegaard said.

Cultural funding review

While the arts community and city staff continue to look at short-term relief options, the city's review of its cornerstone cultural funding opportunities remains in progress.

Austin's cultural funding programs have sent tens of millions of dollars into the local arts scene over the past several decades, and a reworking of the funds has been under consideration since 2019. Staff have said the review is based around a new racial equity framework and could cause a redistribution of the funds many arts organizations have come to rely on each year. After initially planning for a fall launch, staff are now eyeing next spring to potentially open the newly-organized funding programs.

Meghan Wells, manager of the Cultural Arts Division, said the city is focused first on sending out emergency dollars through ARPA before finalizing the new cultural funds. She also said staff are taking their time to ensure the programs are "worthy" at launch after some community members expressed concerns with the rollout in recent months.

“We are not rushing through this. We are proceeding carefully, thoughtfully, and with the feedback that we continue to get and will get," Wells said.
By Ben Thompson

Austin City Hall Reporter

Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston. He spent more than two years reporting on Montgomery County and The Woodlands area before moving to Austin in 2021 to cover City Hall and other news throughout the city. Contact Ben with questions, tips or feedback at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @BThompson_CI.