City of Austin Cultural Arts Funding 2008-2019.
City of Austin Cultural Arts Funding 2008-2019. Source: Cultural Arts Division, City of Austin

Note: This story has been updated to include the funding allocations list released Sept. 28.

At a protracted and at times tense meeting of the Austin Arts Commission last night, the commission voted to approve a revised funding matrix for the next round of city cultural arts grants.

The new allocation guidelines are meant to even out funding allocations after an initial list of recommendations released Sept. 14 left some longtime organizations losing up to 40 percent of their city funding, while other groups were recommended for increases as much as 1100 percent.

Now, after tapping into a contingency fund, and making cuts to other cultural arts programs, the Arts Commission added about $1 million to the available monies. Previously, there was a little over $11.4 million, now there is $12.4 million available for allocation.

The commission’s newly revised funding parameters also limit cuts to individual groups to 11 percent over their last year’s funding.

Programs reduced in funding this year at the Arts Commission’s recommendation include the Community Initiatives Program, which is aimed at smaller arts groups new to city funding, and the TEMPO of temporary public art.

Read: Arts Commission to Consider Using Reserve Fund to Make Up Shortfalls

When the first funding recommendations were released, the Cultural Arts Division (CAD) staff had explained that the reductions were the combination of a drop in the available monies this year plus an increase in the number of new applications.

Read: “Austin Arts Groups Angered As City Announces Cuts to Funding”

The city uses Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) to fund its Cultural Arts Funding Program which this year is down, the city reports. The city received 427 applications this year, including 125 first-time applicants.

This year 421 applications to the city cultural funding program, or 98.5 percent of those received, were recommended for funding.

Like at last week’s arts commission meeting, artists and representatives of arts groups expressed their frustration with the city’s cultural arts funding program.

“I’m bewildered at how a tax revenue stream that has been escalating for years is suddenly in decline when there are new hotels constantly opening in downtown Austin,” said Don Dixon, a board member of Tapestry Dance Company.

Artist and former arts commissioner Jennifer Chenoweth called for increased transparency in the cultural arts funding program. “Who is accountable for the decisions being made?” she said. “Once you lose trust in a system you never get it back.”

Both commissioners and arts leaders have complained that CAD staff gave little notice of this year’s drop in funding until well into the process. The HOT funding shortage and the increase in applications were not revealed to the public by CAD staff until Sept. 17, a week before the funding recommendations were to go before city council for approval and just two weeks before the Oct. 1 start of the city’s fiscal year.

The arts commission’s presentation of its new funding matrix last night did not come until after a previously scheduled two-hour joint meeting of the Music Commission and Arts Commission.

No specific funding amounts were released at last night’s meeting, however. On Oct. 4, the city council is set to approve funding allocations for those organizations awarded $58,000 or more. Funding awards of less than $58,000 do not need city approval.

On Sept. 28, the Cultural Arts Division the list of funding recommendations.

Commissioner Felipe Garza picked up again on his criticism of established arts groups as he did at last week’s meeting.

“Every one of you here is getting $50,000 or more and none of the small groups are here tonight,” Garza said as commission chair Jaime Castillo was on the verge of calling the meeting to a close. “You guys have all the power and influence and you fund nothing but yourselves. You don’t represent your city.”

Several in the audience booed and walked out.

Disclosure: Sightlines is a first-time applicant to the city’s Cultural Arts core funding program.


  1. I understand the argument that these larger organizations, ie. Big Medium, The Contemporary, and Art Alliance all help umbrella smaller organizations and give them a voice.

    But…these larger organizations are fingertips away from huge amounts of wealth. If you look at who is on the boards/contributing money to these institutions you will see that the amounts of money they are bitching about is a drop in the bucket for their supporters.

    Personally, I say “Spread the Wealth” and see what develops giving 130+ new artists some capital. Or better yet, how about these large organizations that didn’t get enough money collaborate with the smaller groups that did, giving them a wider platform and audience?

    also, there are a few LLC’s on that list who are getting cultural funding, LLC’s are companies not non-profits….why are we left funding someones floundering art gallery that can’t stand on it’s own feet?

    PS. can we get a copy of this Matrix?
    #whatisthematrix #matrixreloaded #slackerATX

  2. In general, I think there is agreement that supporting new and emerging artists is a good approach, as is spreading the wealth, but we also need to fund good and excellent artists and organizations and not necessarily funding almost every application received. And there are organizations out there, like Big Medium, Austin Creative Alliance, etc., who are supporting these up and coming artists and giving them the guidance and help they need to apply for City funding and do so much more. Reducing the funding to these organizations only to give it to more and more artists is not a very strategic balanced approach to supporting the ecosystem. Some of the more established organizations can do more with City funding to support artists and directly fund them without burdening the artists with the City application process, reporting, insurance requirements, etc.

    Also, just to add some clarity to the previous comment, Big Medium and Art Alliance are not the big organizations in Austin. Big Medium should not be compared to The Contemporary, who reported $2.6 million in expenses on their 2016 990, while Big Medium reported $461 thousand in expenses on our 2016 990. We are not in the same category and should not be equated or compared in terms of budget sizes or City funding.

    Big Medium is grateful to receive City funding, we try to do as much as possible with those funds and support as many artists as we can. If the Cultural Arts Division decides it’s best to support every artist possible and give less to us and all the other more established organizations, we will make that work. My personal (and admittedly self-serving) opinion is that Austin should focus the use of HOT funds on driving excellence and pushing the arts further into the spotlight of what makes this city great (which in turn drives cultural tourism, the intended use of HOT funding), while at the same time putting a good amount of funding towards new and emerging artists and groups to support the next generation of excellent established organizations continuing to make Austin a great place to live and visit.


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