Feedback of a Different Kind

At the latest arts funding forum, artists gave city officials an earful but not what they expected

What was the most common phrase directed at city officials during last week's Cultural Funding Program public forum?

No, it wasn't "this isn't fair" or "that's horrible," and it didn't involve any word beginning with the letter F.

Believe it or not, it was "thank you." Of the 18 speakers who signed up to address Cultural Arts program manager Vincent Kitch and Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office director Sue Edwards on Tuesday, March 2, most made a point of thanking the city for its efforts in reforming the funding process. That's a rather radical change for Austin's Cultural Contracts program, which for decades inspired chiefly heated complaints and accusations of unfairness from members of the arts community. But for the last 21é2 years, the city has been on a mission to overhaul the program – bringing in consultants, moving the program out of Parks & Rec and into EGRSO, hiring Kitch, and getting loads of input from the arts community – and the comments at this latest public forum appeared to show the community was appreciative.

Oh, there are still concerns. Arts education providers want to be sure they can still be funded under the revised program, an issue that cropped up over differing interpretations of what may be funded by the bed tax, from which the city's arts funding comes. (The hotel-motel association feels such programs don't qualify, as they don't directly affect tourism. The city respectfully disagrees.) And everyone wants a formal system for evaluating the new process in case it doesn't work perfectly the first time around.

The main sticking point at present, however, appears to be review panels. Everyone agrees they are key to the success of the reformed process. Speaker after speaker – many of them bruised from previous rounds in the Cultural Contracts ring – spoke to the overwhelming need for panelists who are knowledgeable about the art form they're impaneled for and the local arts community, and who are free of conflicts of interest. Unfortunately, the city has had only a few dozen folks step forward to offer their services as panelists so far. It seems that the process in the past has been so contentious and demanding that the kind of people the city needs to give the process new integrity are not so eager to put their necks on what still feels like a chopping block. Kitch is working up a more detailed picture of the way the panelists will work – how many applications each will review, how they'll be evaluated, how many hours will be involved, etc. – to encourage more involvement. If you know someone you think would make a fair and knowledgeable panelist, let Kitch know. Go to www.ci.austin.tx.us/redevelopment/panels.htm, or e-mail him at vincent.kitch@ci.austin.tx.us.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City of Austin Cultural Programs, Vincent Kitch, Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office, Sue Edwards, Cultural Contracts, arts funding

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