A projected 93% decrease in next year’s city arts funding has Austin’s arts community demanding that the city council act immediately.
Recent estimates from the Economic Development Department, which oversees the cultural arts funding program, show a projected 93% percent decrease in allocations from the Hotel Occupancy Tax over pre-pandemic levels.
In fiscal year 2019 (FY19), the last before the pandemic, city arts funding totaled $13 million. Projections by the Economic Development Department, presented at recent Arts Commission meetings show a FY22 estimate of $1 million in available funds.
Money for Austin’s municipal arts funding comes from the Hotel Occupancy Tax of which the arts receive 15% of the city’s allocation. Funding levels are set according to tax revenues from the previous fiscal year. For example, money for the current fiscal year, FY21, come from the period Oct. 1, 2019 through Sept. 30, 2020.
Worldwide, the tourism industry has been crushed by the pandemic. Austin saw its hotel occupancy dip as low 5% in April 2020, according to industry reports.
The budget projections prompted the Austin Arts Commission last month to recommend to the Austin City Council that it approve a $20 million allotment from the federal American Rescue Plan to shore up city arts funding for the next two years.
“Austin arts organizations, already reeling from displacement due to the rapid growth and development of our city, were faced with unprecedented and extreme financial challenges brought on by the pandemic,” the commission wrote in its request. “Artists, arts organizations and cultural arts venues have lost their traditional revenue streams, are bearing huge losses, and are struggling to survive.”
Alliance CEO John Riedie said the extra funds were badly needed to save arts sector workers. “This is about rescuing creative arts jobs — jobs that create the cultural landscape of our city, jobs that create Austin’s appeal to tourists.”
Allison Orr, artistic director of Forklift Danceworks, which stages enormous community-based performances, also said that it’s urgent that the public understand artists as workers who are struggling after a prolonged shutdown of the industry that employs them.
“At Forklift Danceworks, we ask our audiences to see work as art — to see the beauty and skilled movement of sanitation work, firefighting, parks maintenance, and more,” said Orr. “But in this moment, we ask our community to see art-making as work as well. In order to make our performances happen, we employ five full-time staff and a large roster of contracted dancers, community engagement advisors, and local artists. City funding for the arts is essential to creating innovative, accessible, and exciting arts experiences in our city–and to support the hard work and livelihoods of the people behind them.”
The city council is scheduled to take up the request for American Rescue Plan funds at its May 20 meeting.