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Pump Project, HOPE, Co-Lab DEMO forced to move in 2018

The East Austin Studio Tour is intended to be a celebration of the city's vibrant visual arts scene. But the second weekend of the 2017 EAST felt more like a funeral as word circulated that Eastside mainstay Pump Project Art Complex was losing its home after 12 years, a move that would displace 40 artists who had studios there.

Director Joshua Green went public with the news late Friday, announcing that the landlord had chosen not to renew the nonprofit's lease and would be putting the property on the market with an asking price of $2.4 million. Needless to say, that's beyond the financial reach of Pump Project or any arts organization in town, so once again, a creative hub with an established history of providing cultural benefits to the city is getting booted out of the space it made valuable and will be left without a home – or any realistic prospect of finding a home that it could afford in the central city. (By this time, I'm sure you could name the other victims with me: Salvage Vanguard Theater, the Rude Mechs' Off Center, Tapestry Dance Company's Western Trails home, Co-Lab Projects' Allen Street home, Art Post, UP Collective, Tiny Park, Okay Mountain, …).

The salt in the wound for Pump Project is that it was one of the handful of recipients of funding in the city's pilot Arts Space Assistance Program, and the $41,000 that the nonprofit was awarded would have helped pay for improvements that would have brought the venue up to code. Unfortunately, the grant was tied to a requirement that the recipient have a three-year lease in place, and Pump Project had been leasing month-to-month since it ran afoul of code compliance authorities in December 2015. (What happens to the $41,000 now that the ASAP has not been renewed for fiscal year 2018 will be interesting to discover.)

That leaves Pump Project with one option: finding a new home. And SVT and the Rude Mechs and Co-Lab can tell you what that's like in this blazing hot – and arts-unfriendly – real estate market. But Green is undertaking the challenge and has established a relocation fund through Better Unite and is soliciting donations from the public.

The Pump Project announcement arrives as another pair of visual arts entities are preparing to leave their current locations. At the end of November, Co-Lab Projects will be clearing out of the DEMO Gallery space at Eighth & Congress where it's been exhibiting art for the past four years, and in June, HOPE Outdoor Gallery will abandon the hillside on Baylor Street that's been its home since it was founded in 2011. What distinguishes these departures from those of Pump Project and almost every other arts group in town is that both organizations knew they would only be in their respective spaces for a limited amount of time, that eventually they'd have to clear out for major developments of the property, so the eviction notices weren't without warning. Even so, both properties are right in the heart of the city, which means the moves will clear two more cultural venues out of a section of town where the lack of affordability is causing the arts to be displaced without being replaced.

For Co-Lab, this means another stretch of nomadic life. The nonprofit still hasn't identified a permanent location since it left its original East Austin venue in 2015. But expect that search to be on hold for a few months while director Sean Gaulager empties out the DEMO Gallery and takes some time to recover.

HOPE, on the other hand, has found a place to land once it leaves Baylor, and made the news public last week. The new site will be on Carson Creek Ranch near the airport and will cover six acres of land. Plans call for a much larger network of walls for art; the addition of shaded viewing areas, art classes, food trucks, and a cafe; and some major upgrades for parking and restrooms from the current site. The Austin American-Statesman reported that Chioco Design will be in charge of the project and that a fundraising campaign for the new HOPE home will be launched in the first months of 2018.

HOPE's situation is one bit of bright news in an almost overwhelmingly dark crisis over arts spaces in Austin. Today, the Austin Creative Alliance announced that it will be channeling more energy into this area in 2018 via a three-pronged policy initiative: a publicly owned land trust to preserve existing cultural assets and develop new spaces; a city-backed Chapter 380 loan program to aid arts, culture, and music organizations to purchase land and facilities; and creation of live/work artists' villages using structurally sound, movable houses that would otherwise be demolished due to gentrification. ACA also plans to activate an Advocacy Task Force that will speak at every meeting of the City Council, the arts commission, and the music commission, as well as at gatherings of other governmental bodies and community groups; and send emails and make calls to council members, community activists, and high-level city staffers during the policy and city budget process. ACA is inviting members of the community to join the task force. The 2018 initiatives will be introduced at the ACA Honors celebration on Tue., Nov. 28, 7pm, at the North Door, 502 Brushy. The first meeting of the task force is set for Wed., Dec. 13. For more information, visit the ACA website.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Pump Project, Co-Lab Projects, HOPE Outdoor Gallery, Austin Creative Alliance, Arts Space Assistance Program

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