Austin Creative Alliance's Summit Report

The service organization moves beyond talk with four ideas on how the city can expand its cultural infrastructure

Shea Little (l) and John Riedie of the Austin Creative Alliance on the corner of Seventh and Red River (Photo by John Anderson)

Kraka-thoom!!! Rapidly rising rents force Austin theatres, galleries, and live music clubs to shut their doors.

Ba-doom!!! Artists and creatives priced out of the capital city relocate to Lockhart, Elgin, Wimberley, and elsewhere.

The economic storms that have been battering the city's creative sector in recent years have been the topic of much, much discussion of late, though little that's generated real action to address the problem. Indeed, for the longest time, the crisis facing creatives could be likened to the weather: Everybody talks about it, but nobody seems to do anything about it.

Finally, that looks to be changing. On Feb. 26, Mayor Steve Adler unveiled his Austin Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus Resolution, a collection of ideas for providing support to and encouraging growth across the creative sector that comes with a directive to City Manager Marc Ott to deliver an action plan to the City Council Economic Opportunity Committee by the end of May. That was followed April 2 by the first meeting of a new entity called Create Space Austin, at which three dozen people in the performing arts community came together to start crafting solutions to that scene's loss of venues. (See the accompanying article, "Barn Raising.") And this coming week, the Austin Creative Alliance, the membership service organization for all the city's creatives, gets into the act with a public report titled "Leveraging Austin's Boom Into Opportunity for Arts, Culture, and Cre­ativ­ity." Drawing on input gathered from four Creative Sector Summits that ACA convened over the prior 15 months, the report details four projects that could provide critical infrastructure for the creative sector in the years to come. These are not ideas generated by the Creative Alliance itself necessarily, but in the summit discussions about affordability, sustainability, and infrastructure, they struck the ACA and summit participants as having the potential to be game-changers – positive developments that could also serve as models for other projects down the line.

Creative Alliance CEO John Riedie, who will deliver the report Tuesday, April 19, in KLRU's studio 6A, has laid out an overview of the projects in a video on ACA's website – – but here's a brief summary:

1) Austin Creative Trust

Basically a land bank for the creative sector, this private nonprofit would purchase properties already being used for creative purposes (live music, art exhibits, theatre, etc.) but not owned by the creatives using it. The trust could lease or sell the property to the creatives so they're not at risk of having landlords raise their rents or sell the land from under them, and if a tenant does leave the property, its use as a creative space would be preserved by the trust. The trust would also offer low-interest loans to creatives displaced from their current spaces to help them relocate.

2) Creative Enterprise Zone for Red River

Building on the idea of the Red River Cultural District, the Creative Enterprise Zone would preserve established live music clubs, especially in the blocks between Seventh and 10th streets, and also make zoning changes and add development incentives to make it easier for other creative entities (art galleries, small theatres, comedy clubs, a music museum) to be established in that area, as well as bring in rehearsal and studio spaces and co-op housing for creatives. The idea is to drive more tourism to the area and to maximize creative activity in the area around the clock.

3) Concert Hall and Education Campus

Austin Classical Guitar, Austin Chamber Music Center, and Conspirare are collaboratively developing the idea of a concert hall (600-800 seats) that would fill a critical gap in the number of midsized performing arts venues in the city outside of facilities on educational campuses. And surrounding the hall would be a complex of classrooms, practice rooms, and rehearsal facilities for these organizations (and others in the community) to use for their full-to-bursting arts education programs.

4) East Austin Creative District

The thinkEAST development previously reported on in these pages is being put forward as a model for a full creative district in the city. The project on the site for the former fuel tank farm is being developed with an eye toward combining affordable housing, health care facilities, community gardens, parkland, live/work spaces for creatives, creative industries, and retail. How that's been accomplished is through a long and careful planning process led by Fusebox Festival. Over 18 months, more than 2,700 people contributed their ideas for this 24-acre site, with significant input coming from neighborhood residents and stakeholders. A Community Vision and Master Plan created from that input is currently being edited.

Whether any of these projects will actually provide any real relief to the creative community – or even be realized in their current form – is an open question. Each comes with its own huge challenges, whether they're multi-million dollar fundraising, building political will, or gathering support from business interests and developers, and as with the issues of affordability and space facing all of Austin, time is not on our side. Still, a definite shift has taken place in the mindset of the community: Wringing our hands over these issues and waiting for someone else to make things better won't do. The creatives themselves need to identify solutions and work to put them in place. And the fact that they're ready to act is reflected in the diverse group of creatives scheduled to join Riedie in speaking about the summits and these projects on April 19: Big Medium Executive Director and ACA Board Chair Shea Little, Fusebox Festival Managing Director Brad Carlin, Mohawk General Manager Cody Cowan, Austin Classical Guitar Executive Director Matt Hinsley, Imagine Art Executive Director Debbie Kizer, Salvage Vanguard Theater Artistic Director Jenny Larson, and Mother Falcon members Clara Brill and Matt Puckett.

If you want to be among the creatives creating solutions for your community, to find opportunities in this challenging time of growth, now's the time to get on board.

The Austin Creative Alliance's CEO Report: "Leveraging Austin Boom Into Opportunity for Arts, Culture, and Creativity" will be delivered Tue., April 19, 6pm, at KLRU Studio 6A. Submit your required RSVP to

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Austin Creative Alliance, John Riedie, affordability, thinkEAST, Red River Cultural District, Austin Classical Guitar, Austin Chamber Music Center, Conspirare, Shea Little, Fusebox Festival, Brad Carlin, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Imagine Art, Mother Falcon, omnibus resolution

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