Four months after using a new guideline to declare Sharir + Bustamante Danceworks ineligible for city arts funding, threatening the company's survival and sparking community concern, the Austin Arts Commission reversed course and cleared the way for the company to receive money from the city.
Sharir OK'ed for City Funds
Four months after using a guideline to declare Sharir + Bustamante Danceworks ineligible for city arts funding, thereby threatening the company's survival and sparking community concern, the Austin Arts Commission reversed course and cleared the way for the company to receive money from the city. In a special meeting at the Dougherty Arts Center on Friday, August 24, the Commission approved a motion by Commissioner Maxine Barkan to "declare Sharir + Bustamante Danceworks eligible for city funding for the year 2001-2002." Given that the ineligibility ruling was based on a new guideline that all commissioners agreed was not intended to apply to Danceworks, that the application of this guideline toward Danceworks was flawed, that the action taken by the Commission could have caused one of the city's most distinguished dance companies to fold and that all it succeeded in doing these past four months was generate a mountain of ill will, wrangling, and bad PR, and that a City Council member -- Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman -- took it upon herself to visit the Commission and personally ask it to fix the matter, you might think that the motion to bring Danceworks back into the fold would have passed by a more than comfortable margin. But, no. It squeaked by on a 3-2 vote -- yet more proof why this matter took the whole summer to resolve. Joining Barkan on the "aye" side were Commissioners Bobbie Enriquez and Bruce Willenzik. New Commissioner Mel Ziegler was absent. Chair Andrea Bryant didn't vote. With Chelby King and Deana Hendrix having resigned, that left Eduardo Benavides and Loretta Lewis, both of whom were on record as supporting the ineligibility call (seemingly to punish Danceworks for submitting an application in violation of the new guideline). The two spent the meeting with heels firmly dug in, choosing to hew to Commission procedures and policy, no matter how defective, at the expense of community sentiment, common sense, and the wishes of City Council. Benavides couldn't let go of the sanctity of Commission rules, not wishing to vote an exception to the offending guideline even though he admitted that it needed to be changed. Council could fund Danceworks without the Commission acting at all, he argued. Lewis seemed to think it wasn't the Commission's business. When told that approving Sharir + Bustamante's eligibility didn't require the reopening of the funding process as the company was now outside the process, she responded, "Why do we have to take any action for somebody that's outside our process?" The answer, that council asked them to, did nothing to move Lewis. Thus the 3-2 vote. That there was finally forward motion on the Danceworks matter was encouraging. But, as it has been the case all year, the process surrounding the matter was not.
It was to have been a great show for a great cause, but three days before it was to happen, H2O, aka Helping Houston Out, the benefit for Houston theatres damaged by Tropical Storm Allison, was canceled. According to Dan Fallon of the Austin Theatre Alliance, which organized the event featuring Austin Musical Theatre, Austin Symphony, State Theater Company, Austin Lyric Opera, Women in Jazz, Tapestry Dance Company, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Kinky Friedman, and Guy Forsyth, ticket sales never reached a level that justified the huge investment of resources necessary to pull off the show. Late last week, the company set a deadline for meeting a set ticket goal. On Friday, when it was clear the goal would not be reached, ATA pulled the plug.