City funding for the cultural arts is projected to be down by at least 45% this year.
That was the sobering news delivered at a specially called Austin Arts Commission meeting today, which was held via videoconferencing.
The total estimated allocation for cultural contracts for the next round of funding (Fiscal Year 2021) is a little more than $7 million. This year the Cultural Contracts program received 459 applications for funding.
In last year’s round of funding, some $12.8 million was allocated for 479 contacts. (The city of Austin does not make grants to arts organization and artists. Instead it offers contracts for cultural services.)
Money for cultural contracts come from the city’s portion of the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT). However with the tourism sector taking a blow because of the coronavirus pandemic, HOT monies are expected significantly lower for FY21. Last week the city’s Tourism Commission was presented with a report that showed that hotel occupancy in Austin has been down as much 70% since the mid-March pandemic shutdown.
The arts commission also took up a letter from the arts community asking that the commission put forth a recommend to city council asking for $5 million in funding specifically for non-profit arts organizations to retain jobs and sustain operations. The letter was signed by more than 250 artists and arts leaders.
The $5 million requested would be beyond the city’s Austin Creative Space Disaster Relief Program, the Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund and CARES Act money the city has designated for the arts community. (See “Austin City Council approves $2.5 million in relief aid for artists, musicians”)
The letter points out that at least 177 cultural non-profit organizations have neither a physical venue nor are a part of the live music sector, and are therefore not addressed by the city’s other recovery grants.
The arts commission voted to recommend the proposal to city council, with the agreement that it be discussed further at the next meeting. Commissioner Brett Barnes (District 4) voted against the recommendation saying he wanted more detail on how the $5 million amount was arrived at, and whether it was enough.
Commissioner Bears Rebeccas Fonte (District 6) said: “When we have 13-page list of signatures of people who support this, if we don’t do something, it just looks like we’re not listening.”
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Disclosure: Sightlines receives support from the city’s Cultural Arts funding program