Hold That Process

The Arts Commission recommends to City Council that the arts funding application process be suspended for the coming year

Soon after the tempestuous close to last year's newly reformed city arts funding process, a cadre of intrepid artists and arts administrators rolled up their sleeves and went back under the hood to get that Cultural Contracts engine running more smoothly. But even though this guidelines committee met regularly with some of the brightest, most experienced hands around contributing, the issues it's been trying to resolve in the scoring of applicants – how much weight to give an applicant's history in the community, to applicants who are new or emerging, to historically underfunded minority applicants, to individual artists, to fiscal history – are so thorny that they couldn't be resolved in four months. So, with the start of the next funding process bearing down, the committee recommended to the Austin Arts Commission that the FY 2006 funding application process be suspended. Current recipients would still apply, but the abbreviated process would contain no panel reviews, and scores from the FY 2005 process would be applied to a new funding formula instead. No new applicants would be allowed unless City Council set aside funding for them specifically and approved a special application process in the fall.

Naturally, the commission wanted to take the pulse of the arts community on the matter, so it held a public hearing in council chambers on Monday, March 21. About 50 people turned up, with more than a third of those addressing the commission. Some were concerned that a suspension would make it harder for funding to reflect changes in organizations that have grown substantially in recent years. Others worried that newer and first-time applicants would be shut out. And there was some confusion over the word "freeze," which had initially been used to describe the suspension and suggested to some that funding levels for FY 06 would be frozen at FY 05 levels. But overall, speakers said that the proposed suspension was the fairest solution, especially compared to another quick fix that might gloss over deeply rooted problems or make them worse.

The following night, across the hall, the Arts Commission met again to mull over the matter. Gloria Pennington asked Guidelines Committee Chair Jason Neulander how long the committee needed to resolve the issues at hand. He estimated four to six months, with another four to five months of community input to follow that. Chair Mel Ziegler offered a resolution to council he'd drafted with Cultural Arts Program Manager Vincent Kitch, laying out the suspension as proposed by the committee. After about 45 minutes of discussion and fine-tuning of text, mostly to reflect the body's strong endorsement of a process for new applicants, the commission voted unanimously to recommend the suspension to council. For more information, call the Cultural Arts Program Office at 974-9310.

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Cultural Contracts Program, Arts Commission, city arts funding, Austin arts funding, Gloria Pennington, Jason Neulander, Mel Ziegler, Cultural Arts Program, Vincent Kitch

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