An unseasonably mild year of city arts funding ends in a tempest
Whatever coolness and calm attended this year's city arts funding process as peer panels reviewed and scored applications according to reforms in the system gave way to storms when the new formula for allocating funds was applied, and local arts organizations and companies learned how much or more accurately, how little funding they'd receive for the coming fiscal year. With hotel/motel bed tax revenue down this year by almost 20% (from $3 million-plus to $2.5 million), many applicants found themselves facing substantial cuts almost one-third were slated for cuts of 45% or more from their previous year's funding which, on top of the previous double-digit cuts of recent years, could leave some groups unable to deliver certain programs or produce at all. Naturally, calls were made and e-mails sent in an attempt to appeal to the council before the budget was adopted.
Council not only listened, they acted, developing alternate funding scenarios based on statistics and funding details provided by Cultural Arts Program staff. In the end, it was Council Member Raul Alvarez who carried the day with a system of caps and supplemental awards that helped "smooth off the rough edges," as colleague Betty Dunkerley put it. The "tweaking to soften the impact in the first year" of the reformed arts funding process, as Alvarez himself described the plan, involved capping proposed increases at 10% this year and awarding supplemental funding to groups that would have lost more than 30% of their FY 04 funding. For example, in the Institutional Support category, the Austin Museum of Art was granted $10,000 to offset a 43.6% cut, and Mexic-Arte got $15,000 to offset a 51.2% cut. In Project Support, Creative Opportunity Orchestra got $5,000 to compensate for a 32.7% cut, Sharir + Bustamante Danceworks got $10,000 against a 45.8% cut, and Hyde Park Theatre got $15,000 against a 59.5% cut. Under the Alvarez adjustment, the pain for applicants was lessened considerably, with the worst cut topping out at 36.6%, and the vast majority of the applicants more than three-quarters receiving cuts of 20% or less. Make no mistake, that's still a lot of hurt for these nonprofits to absorb nonprofits, let's remember, that the city continues to tout as part of the creative engine that drives Austin but maybe it's manageable enough that they can hang on to help the city further refine the arts funding system.