Pyramid of Dreams

What Is the MACC?

All of this political theatre effectively obscures the vital question about the MACC, which is, "What is it?" Such a simple question should warrant a simple answer, but it does not. Outside of its location, there are no design plans for the facility (some 1995 conceptual drawings have been shelved pending the November election). Instead, a quick polling of MACC board members elicits wildly divergent and sometimes contradictory responses about the programs and plans for the center. Some say it will feature visual arts, others say that it won't. Some say it will use existing buildings on the city-owned site, others say it will be built from the ground up. Ideas for the site range from the inclusion of a huge golden pyramid to the creation of community gardens, and while few of the suggestions were mutually exclusive, it is doubtful that $11 million could be stretched to fund them all. It may not be surprising that the MACC group is full of dreams for its facility, but it is questionable that the city would commit $11 million to such an amorphous dream factory.

In addition, plans for the administration and operation of the facility after its construction are even more murky. Vasquez-Revilla admits that the current board is "top-heavy" with artists, as opposed to business people or administrators, and board president Roen Salinas admits that the main purpose of the current board is simply to push to get the facility funded and built. "Our intent is not to be another arts group, because that's not what we're about," says Salinas. Vasquez-Revilla says that once the bonds are approved, the group will hire professionals to help them plan the MACC. "I don't see how we can hire somebody right now to do planning when we're so focused on getting this approved," she says.

Concentrating on the political may be a wise strategy during a tense election season, but it doesn't help answer any questions about what role the city will play in the funding and administration of the facility, or where else the money to run the facility might come from if not the city. Vasquez-Revilla says that apart from assisting in the construction of the facility with bond money, the city will not be involved. City officials suggest that the city will, indeed, have a hand in MACC operations. While Vasquez-Revilla proudly points to a one-time anonymous donation of $250,000 toward the future operations and management of the facility, MACC boosters have not proved themselves particularly competent in raising money over the past decade, suggesting that reliance on city funding is an inevitability.

Vasquez-Revilla, however, uses the political survival of the group against all odds as proof of their future competency. "I just don't understand why people would question our abilities if we've been able to sustain ourselves for so long," she complains. Furthermore, she points out, there will be plenty of time to plan and re-plan the MACC during the three to six years it will take to sell the $11 million in bonds and begin to fund the construction of the facility.

Prime Real Estate

One thing the MACC has going for it, however, is land. In fact, the MACC has got what everyone agrees is just about the choicest piece of land in the downtown area: six contiguous acres fronting Town Lake a block from the Convention Center and at the foot of Waller Creek. Any business would dream of locating there, and in fact many have been salivating over the site for years. Vasquez-Revilla says that holding onto the site has been a struggle despite a city ordinance which dedicated the site to the future MACC following the 1992 election defeat.

MACC boosters say the choice site is warranted for the facility. "It adds a taste of cultural vitality to the downtown arts district itself," says Angie Barrientos (daughter of state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos), who was called in a few weeks ago to manage the MACC campaign. Supporters also point to the area as a downtown enclave of Hispanic residences, but ironically, the few dozen homes which are still located in the area could be threatened by the development of both the MACC and the expansion of the Austin Convention Center.

Few of these considerations will be brought to the minds of the voters on Nov. 3, however. In the first place, the MACC will be at the bottom of a long ballot which will include big-ticket state races. In the second place, nowhere on the ballot will the words "Mexican American Cultural Center" even appear. Instead, funding for the MACC will be grouped under the sheltering wings of $46.4 million in funding for "libraries, museums, and cultural centers," which everyone agrees is a savvy piece of packaging for the once-failed proposition. "Let's face it," says Barrientos. "Who votes against libraries?"

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