Cultural Affairs Division
Austin's first arts tsar departs for parts northwest
On Tuesday, Vincent Kitch winds up seven years of working for the city of Austin on arts and cultural issues and heads to Seattle to serve as director of the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs in the mayor's office there. Kitch spent most of his time here as cultural arts program manager, arriving in fall 2003 with a huge first assignment: overhauling the city's arts funding program, which had been dogged by controversies and conflicts for more than 20 years. Against all odds, he instituted reforms that, if not always pleasing to everyone, were fair enough to diffuse the antipathy toward and distrust of the process. He stayed in that job until last fall, when, in an under-the-radar reorganization of the Cultural Arts Division in the Economic Growth & Redevelopment Services Office, Kitch was shifted to a post titled "arts and culture development manager," focusing on integrating creative industries into the city's economic development strategy. (Megan Crigger was moved from Art in Public Places coordinator to acting cultural arts program manager.)
Kitch's tenure saw a major shift in the development of Austin's creative community, from being largely fractured – with artists, disciplines, and industries fighting one another for scant resources – to being greatly united, with creatives planning their futures together and collaboration as the norm. "The funding programs work absolutely galvanized the arts community," Kitch wrote in an e-mail, "and I remember those first months in front of the Austin Arts Coalition with everyone wanting operating support for organizations of $10,000 or bigger and how I had to talk about all the changes and why we could not do everything they wanted. Then the next year working on the matrix, etc.
"But all that brought people together and the CreateAustin planning process kept them together and got them working and with more and different people and industries. Now I certainly can't take credit for CreateAustin, but the real relationships that have developed in the community I think come from the shared experience of first the funding programs and then CreateAustin. If our work has contributed to that collaborative environment, then that should be the greatest accomplishment [of my time here], but it's not mine. I only played a small part in it."
Kitch leaves some projects unfinished: "My recent work in tax credits and cultural space development was just getting started, and we have so many capital projects that are coming online or need to come online. I would have liked to have had more impact on public awareness and more marketing and cultural tourism development, and we only have begun to look at artist live/work space and really start pursuing that."
But he entrusts those to other hands while he considers a new city's needs. Bon voyage, Mr. Kitch. Thanks for your good work, and all the best in Seattle.