City outlines revamp of its arts funding program

Businesses and 'unincorporated groups' are eligible for city arts funding


The city of Austin’s Cultural Arts Division outlined its new funding programs, a major overall view of how the city plans to fund the arts starting in 2021.

The new program concepts were presented at a Dec. 12 video community meeting. Also presented were new guidelines for the Heritage Tourism Division and the Music & Entertainment Division.

Under the new system,¬†recipients of cultural funding needn’t be non-profit organizations or individual artists. Now “businesses and unincorporated groups” are also eligible to receive money from the city.

As in many others cities, money for Austin’s municipal arts funding comes from the Hotel Occupancy Tax of which the arts receive 15% of the municipal allocation. And language surrounding the new programs emphasizes a relationship between the arts and convention tourism.

The presentation described how priority will be given to projects that “directly enhance cultural experiences for tourists and convention delegates, including projects that highlight underrepresented histories and narratives.”

In September, the Austin City Council unanimously voted approval to move forward with a $1.2 billion expansion plan for the Austin Convention Center, despite concerns over how the convention industry might be in the next 5 to 10 years.

The new guidelines also state that priority will also be given to “individuals and organizations from the Black/African American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+ and Disability communities.”

The Cultural Arts Division¬†began its overhaul of the funding process in 2019 in part to meet the city’s racial equity goals. In spelling out its policy alignment, officials asserted that these new guidelines match the city’s goals by “leading with a lens of racial equity and healing and correcting past disparities in funding.”

One of the newly proposed programs, named “Thrive,” aims to fund capacity building and leadership development for small to mid-sized culturally-specific organizations with grants of $50,000 to $175,000.

The new arts funding programs will be finalized and launched in Spring 2021.

Watch a video of the Dec. 12 presentation here:

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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