After considering several last minute possibilities, and with a goal to meet racial equity expectations, the Austin arts commission today voted 7 to 3 to approve a new funding matrix of next year’s cultural contracts that sees majority white cultural contractors facing steeper cuts than Black, Latinix and LGBTQ arts groups.
With money for cultural contracts estimated to be down at least 45% over last year, the new funding matrix calls for Black cultural contractors to see no reduction to their contract amounts. Latinx/Asian/Native American cultural contractors will a 12% cut.
LGBTQ cultural contractors will receive a 48% reduction while all other cultural contractors would see a 58% drop in city funding over last year.
Rebecca Bear Fonte, commissioner from District 6, voted against. Amy Mok, commissioner for District 10 recused herself. Rick Van Dyke, commissioner for District 5, abstained.
The commission also voted to keep the TEMPO temporary public art program with a budget of $100,000 yet eliminate the Cultural Specific Marketing Supplement, a program that gives additional monies to ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American) and LGBTQ cultural contractors.
Brett Barnes, commissioner for District 4, questioned continuing to fund cultural heritage festivals, which includes events like the Urban Music Fest, with the likelihood that pandemic-related closures will continue.
“We don’t know if there are going to be festivals where large numbers of people can be gathering,” said Barnes, later adding: “These are contracts for services. Not just free money to keep an organization afloat.”
Lulu Flores, commissioner for District 9, responded that Fiscal Year 2021 contracts extend through September of 2021. “We may be in crisis mode right now, but we didn’t want to cut the funding for programming that might happen a year from now.”
This year’s arts funding is in a transitional year while the arts commission develops new protocols to be in line with city’s racial equity goals. Also at issue is fixing a municipal arts funding process that is not only overly complicated and bureaucratic, but has a sky-high a ratio of applicants to funded projects. In the last funding cycle, 98.5 percent of applicants received city money.
The current funding matrix only applies only to next year.
Though arts leaders applauded the commission’s equity-focused decision, issues remain with how the city and the arts community work together.
“Leading with racial equity is critical,” said Shea Little, executive director of Big Medium, in remarks to the commission. “But the most important issue that I have seen over my many years in the arts and very much in recent days is how divided our art community is. It’s incredibly hard for us to come together and work on growing the pie and getting more funding when we are fighting over the scraps left after the city has already allocated funding to other industries and sectors.”
Disclosure: Sightlines receives support from the city’s Cultural Arts funding program