Central Austin Edition - September 2021


“For a long time there has been a real sense that it was appropriate to put considerably more money … into things that were more considered ‘high art’ than were considered low art. … The deck has just been enormously stacked against individual, working Black musicians in the city having access to that kind of funding.” Mobley, singer-songwriter and co-founder

Black Austin Musicians' Collective

to balance the size of the recipient pool, according to the cultural arts division. “Part of the hard conversation we’re having with the community is that city funds are never a guarantee,” Wells said. “It’s a reality that has proven out that in no way, shape or form should city government be the mainstay of your funding for your organization because it is volatile.” Ryan Crowder, Penfold Theatre’s producing artistic director said, “If you get it wrong in a normal year, you’re going to have a lot of people upset. If you get it wrong in a pandemic year, people are already at a point where they’re stretched thin and feeling desperate.” While the community anxiously awaits the arts funding revamp, some pandemic-related relief could be coming. The arts commission, which has worked closely with sta on the program changes, recommended to City Council on Sept. 20 that around $5.4 million of Austin’s American Rescue Plan Act funds be sent to former award recipients. The art community reacts While the city’s plan will likely reduce the payout for many organizations used to receiving the fund, it has garnered praise from those who see the equity change as long overdue. Singer-songwriter Mobley co-founded the Black Austin Musicians’ Collective last year as an outlet to advocate for underserved artists. He has not received funding, and he said the city has seen years of neglect for members of his constituency in spaces such as hip-hop or R&B, and on “the wrong side of the ‘high art-low art’ divide.” And while change is coming, he also noted that systemic issues could continue if the city is not careful with the plan’s implementation. Laura Donnelly, founder and CEO of the girls’ media and technology nonprot Latinitas, said she welcomes a new equity-based thrust in the city programs. In the past, she said some groups beneted from funding while putting little eort into diversifying leadership or opening programs to a broader selection of Austinites. “Making your organization or audience more diverse and inclusive is a long game. It takes courage, and there will be discomfort,” Donnelly said. “To my peers in arts delivery griping about these necessary changes to keep in pace with Austin’s existing and growing diversity—I say welcome to that journey!” Cross and Tonya Pennie, a director and performer with the Lannaya Drum& Dance program and Dance Africa Fest, shared similar sentiments. “Organizations that did not seem to reect cultural heritage were applying, and that was no fun. That was inequitable,” Pennie said. Lara Toner Haddock, co-producing artistic director at Austin Playhouse, said the uncertain outlook for reduced city funding means she cannot rely on the money for future budgets. Since the mid- 2000s, the playhouse has received tens of thousands of city contract dollars. Toner Haddock also said the perceived lack of transparency and support for Austin’s arts ecosystem in the new plan could have a negative eect on the art industry.


Past recipients of city cultural funding awards include individuals, dance studios, performance venues, galleries and museums. Responses to the proposal have been mixed.

• Local association of Black musicians engaged with artist sustainability and promotion

• No city funding to this organization specically

Ground Floor Theatre

• Theater incubators for performances tied to underrepresented communities • $63,689 over ve years



“Obviously I believe that [Black, Indigenous, people of color] organizations should get the most weight and be supported the most, but white-run organizations that are trying to—and are succeeding, I should say—in serving a diverse population should be given some weight. They aren’t currently.” Lisa Scheps, co-artistic director

Penfold Theatre Company

• North Austin theater focused on reimagining classic plays • $112,970 over seven years

“I think the city’s heart is in the right place. I think all of these changes are coming from a motivation to make the distribution more equitable, which we absolutely need to do. I think that in trying to balance the shortfall of funds and this transition at the same time, it’s leading to some unintended consequences.” Ryan Crowder, producing artistic director



• Nonprot

oering media and technology programming to girls • $466,240 over nine years

Austin Playhouse

• Professional theater performing musicals and classic and modern plays • $1.43 million over 20 years


“In the past the city has been attentive to Latinitas programs yet not at the budget level of other nonprots receiving organizational funding topping $150,000, nonprots with zero diversity of gender or race in their boards or executive leadership, and little eort building that in their audiences. Those at the top also provided limited access for Austin’s communities of color to partake in their programs.” Laura Donnelly, founder and CEO


progress once it is in place, both with data and anecdotally, to ensure it is having its designed eect. “We don’t want unintended consequences to come from the work that’s very well-intended but may accidentally shoot us in the foot. So we’re looking at all the aspects of how we can evaluate whether we’re really getting there,” Wells said. “I’m working to diversify our funding sources as much as I can, and I’m not relying on the city for support, which is a shame because I think everyone wants Austin to be a cultural capital in this country. And moves like this do not seem to support that intention.” Lara Toner Haddock, co-producing artistic director


“Something that gets lost often in these discussions of helping the arts and helping the artists is that we’re actually a major employer. … It’s not just a couple plays that won’t happen a year; it’s people who won’t be employed and who will look for jobs elsewhere if Austin is no longer seen as a welcoming cultural center,” she said. City sta said they are prepared to assist community members in navigating their options as the programs open up in the months ahead. Wells said the city plans to track the proposal’s

For more information, visit communityimpact.com.



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