Who Will Be the Arts Tsar?

Finalists for the job of Austin's cultural arts program manager address the public

Who Will Be the Arts Tsar?
Illustration By Robert Faires

And then there were two.

The city's search for an Arts Tsar is down to a pair of finalists, and both of them had a chance to address the public last Thursday, Oct. 23. Robb Hankins and Vincent Kinch are the last candidates standing for the position known in cityspeak as cultural arts program manager. What that translates into is presiding over a $3 million operating budget and capital resources for public art, overseeing implementation of the city's revised cultural funding program, and nurturing and assisting local artists and arts organizations in development and marketing, as well as beating the drum for the arts throughout the private and public sectors -- in short, setting the tone for the way all cultural activity is viewed in Austin.

Listening to Hankins and Kinch make their respective pitches for the job were about 2 dozen of the usual suspects -- that is, many of the same artists and arts administrators who typically show up for local arts policy and funding issue meetings. The modest size of the turnout may not have reflected actual interest in this important forum, as the city's Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office started spreading the word about it only the day before it happened. Still, those in attendance -- an informed and curious crowd, to be sure -- were most attentive and grilled the candidates as effectively as any journalist.

Hankins spoke first, encapsulating his 15 years with seven different arts agencies in about 15 minutes. His experience covered private and public arts councils on the city, county, and state levels, in locales as diverse as Hartford, Conn., Long Beach, Calif., and El Paso, Texas. It doesn't require much math to tell that Hankins has rarely stayed in a job for more than a few years, but he insisted that he's ready to set down roots, and he'd like to do that in Austin. Kinch said he's been trying to get to Austin for years, ever since he was working, coincidentally, in El Paso in the city's Arts Resources Department. He described his experiences there with cultural contracts and cultural exchange programs, then detailed his current work with the Arts Council in Michigan, where he manages four funding programs.

Besides the shared history in El Paso, both men appeared to share similar philosophies in several areas that were discussed. Both stressed the importance of building and sustaining relationships between the arts community and other communities, be it the tourism industry or neighborhood groups or minority populations. Both stressed the need for fairness in any arts funding system, especially one involving peer review; if the system is universally accepted as fair, both stated, then a higher body such as a city council will not want to challenge it or overrule its decisions. Both expressed a strong interest in marketing the arts through the Web, via a site with comprehensive listings for all local cultural activities.

The biggest difference between the two men appeared to be in the area of style, and the hands told the story. Hankins' hands were always out front, physically illustrating and punctuating his points. They followed his gregarious, openly enthusiastic speaking style. Kinch's hands remained behind his back for almost the entire 45 minutes he was before the crowd. He was no less friendly or appealing than Hankins; he was simply quieter, a soft-spoken negotiator.

Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office Director Sue Edwards thanked the audience for their interest and invited their feedback. She also informed them that City Manager Toby Futrell hoped to make her decision about the position very soon, perhaps as early as the coming week. For more information, call 974-7870.

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Austin arts funding, city arts funding, Robb Hankins, Vincent Kinch, Cultural Arts Program Manager, Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office, Toby Futrell, Sue Edwards

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