Austin arts commission debates new equity-driven funding plan

The proposed matrix would only apply to the next year of the funding cycle, but allows for white arts groups to shoulder more of the upcoming budget cuts

Las Pinatas, David Goujon (temporary installation) "Las Pinatas" is a temporary public art installation commissioned by Austin Art in
David Goujon's "Las Piñatas" was a 2016 temporary installation commissioned as part of the city's TEMPO public art program. Under the proposed funding matrix, the TEMPO project would see some of its funding restored. Photo by Philip Rogers, courtesy the Cultural Arts Division

Against a backdrop of pandemic related funding cuts, the Austin Arts Commission discussed at its meeting today a proposed funding matrix that has Black, Latinix and LGBTQ arts groups receiving less of a reduction than majority white organizations.

Last week, the arts commission heard from city staff that funding for the cultural arts is projected to be down by at least 45% this year.

Yet rather than make across the board cuts, the plan from an arts commission sub-committee recommends that Black organizations receive only a 10% reduction while Latinx/Asian/Native American cultural contractors take a 30% cut. LGBTQ cultural organizations would receive a 48% reduction while all other cultural contractors would see a 58% drop in city funding over last year.

(The city of Austin does not make grants to arts organization and artists. Instead it awards contracts for cultural services.)

This year’s arts funding was already in a holding pattern for a year while new guidelines and requirements are developed to be in line with city’s racial equity goals. Last year, for example, ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American) contractors totaled 28% of those receiving cultural contracts yet received 13% of the available money.

See: City Arts Funding to Go On Hold for a Year

The sub-committee also recommended that other cultural funding programs — the Cultural Specific Marketing Supplement, Community Initiatives and the TEMPO temporary public art program — also be funded at current levels as all were focused on emerging ALAANA artists and arts organizations.

The proposed matrix would only apply to the next year of the funding cycle which begins with the city’s fiscal year 2021.

Discussion at the 90-minute meeting (time limited by access to city’s public web-streaming service), ranged from

“This was really excruciating for us,” said Commissioner Lulu Flores, who led the sub-committee. “We weren’t expecting that funding during (this bridge year) wouldn’t be as bad as it is. We led with an equity lens to deal with those groups being most effected by these extraordinary circumstances.”

Rebecca Bear Fonte, commissioner from District 6, questioned whether organizational budget size should be taken into consideration, with larger and established arts companies taking much more of a budget cut.

“If there was ever a year to burn it all down and start from scratch this is the year,” Fonte said. “I personally won’t support any funding matrix that doesn’t (fund) Black organizations at 100% of their ask.”

“I think now is not the time to pull the rug out from everyone,” Flores responded.

Women & Their Work executive director Chris Cowden asked the commission to consider women as demographic to be included in any equity funding decision.

“I know it’s city of Austin protocol to consider women as an under-represented group,” Cowden said, referencing the the city’s Women-Owned Business Enterprise procurement program. “My request is that (Women & Their Work) be included within the group along with LGBTQ/Disability organizations (when considered for funding this year).”

The commission will meet again on Friday to vote on the funding matrix recommendations. The meeting will be held via videoconferencing at 1 p.m.

Disclosure: Sightlines receives support from the city’s Cultural Arts funding program