Although the Austin City Council approved arts funding for the upcoming fiscal year at its Oct. 4 meeting, many in the arts community expressed concern that the cultural funding process needs to be revised and improved.
A statement issued by the Austin Arts Advocacy Coalition — a group of dozens of arts organizations — stressed the need for improved communications from city staff, more transparency about estimated hotel tax monies and the funding process as whole, and the need for revision to the peer panel and scoring process.
In September the Cultural Arts Division announced that proceeds from the city hotel tax, which funds the arts grants, were less this year than in the past and the number of applicants grew by almost 100 this year. The Cultural Arts Division also increased its administrative expenses by $500,000.
That meant less money to go around this year and the first set of recommendations proposed that some long-time arts group — including Austin Film Society, Austin Symphony Orchestra, Big Medium, Ballet Austin, the Contemporary Austin and Mexic-Arte Museum — take as much as a 40 percent reduction in their funding over last year.
Yet other groups were groups were recommended for as much as an 1100 percent increase. The recommendations also called for 98.5 percent of all applicants — or 421 — to receive funding.
After vociferous public pushback from the arts community, the Commission dipped into a contingency fund, reduced allocations for other programs, and came up a new plan.
The new funding allocations approved by City Council on Oct. 4 limit cuts to individual groups to 11 percent over their last year’s funding, though still keep in place the increases previously recommended. And 98.5 of all applicants will still receive city cultural funding.
“There needs to be some comprehensive reform to the funding process or an audit of the process itself,” said Big Medium director Shea Little whose organization has initially been slated for a 40 percent reduction in its funding. “And the arts community needs to be a part of strategizing that reform.”
The Austin Arts Advocacy coalition also called in its statement for more scrutiny of the arts commission itself.
“Our arts community wants to understand why, after Commissioners are approved and seated, they may subsequently be forced to recuse themselves, leaving the specific commission unable to establish quorum, as occurred during this year’s Cultural Contracts process.”
At least four of the 11 arts commissioners — Brett Barnes, Bears Rebecca Fonte, Alissa McCain and Amy Mok — are ineligible to vote on some matters because they involved with arts organizations that receive city funding.
The next Arts Commission meeting is scheduled for Oct. 15.
Disclosure: Sightlines is a recipient of City of Austin Cultural Arts funding.