Naked City

New Rules for Arts Funding

Citizens and local artists and arts groups got their first preview this week of the city's proposed new-and-improved model for the always controversial cultural contracts program. With about $3 million in hotel bed tax to spend each year to support the arts, the city has routinely wandered into a minefield of conflict -- between new and established artists, between artistic disciplines, and between small and large arts organizations. The ostensibly hygienic and elaborate process for allocating the city Cultural Arts Fund -- involving discipline-specific peer-review panels and the city-appointed Arts Commission as well as the City Council -- was intended to insulate arts funding from politics and conflicts of interest, but has had precisely the opposite effect.

So, more than a year ago, the City Council, at the urging of Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, hired the consulting team of Dabney and Associates both to clean up Austin's entire cultural arts program and to link it more clearly to the city's goals for "creative class" economic development. Recommendations from the first phase of the Dabney study have already been implemented -- including relocating the cultural-contracts program, along with Art in Public Places and other city cultural efforts, from the Parks and Recreation Department to the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office. Now, EGRS is taking public input on the latest Dabney recommendations for restructuring the cultural-contracts operation.

The biggest change from the established model would be to sort applications and allocate funding based not by the type of discipline but by the type of applicant. Instead of pitting a solo avant-garde musician against the Austin Symphony, the new process would evaluate large groups, smaller groups, experienced artists, and emerging artists only with their peers. Also, while under the current system funding is theoretically project-specific -- a "contract for cultural services" provided to the citizens of Austin -- the proposed model allows for fellowships for individual artists and multiyear operational support and "capacity building" grants for established arts organizations. The Dabney plan does envision the city continuing to fund specific projects that further certain official civic goals -- promoting tourism, reflecting Austin "uniqueness," fostering innovation, or providing arts education to both youth and adults.

The complete Dabney proposal, along with instructions for how to submit your feedback, is online at Comments on the draft cultural-contracts program model should be submitted by Oct. 22.

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April 20, 2007

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Cultural Arts Funding, cultural contracts, cultural arts fund, bed tax, Dabney and Associates, Arts Commission, Jackie Goodman, Art in Public Places, Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services, EGRS

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