City affirms plans for music-focused arts center in East Austin


The Austin City Council recently approved a resolution that “reaffirms” the city’s commitment to its African American Cultural Heritage District in East Austin, a move intended to support and develop Black culture-based music industry projects in the district.

The resolution, approved at the council’s Sept. 2 meeting, also directs the city manager to solicit plans and cost estimates for a mixed-use development on 1100 block of East 11th Street that would include a music-focused arts center. Specifically, the city manager is tasked with finding ways to leverage the the city’s Live Music Fund, created in 2019 to support the local music economy and drawn from a 2% increase to the hotel occupancy tax.

The proposed music center would include performance space, recording studios, an art gallery and as well as affordable housing for musicians. The facility would be called the Kenny Dorham Center, named for the legendary but overlooked bebop jazz trumpeter who grew up in East Austin.

The resolution also calls for district improvements like branded street signs, public art and more historical markers. The African American Cultural Heritage District was created in 2009.

Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison sponsored the resolution.

“You’re talking about over a decade in the making of us getting to this place where saying that we have an African American Cultural Heritage District actually means something,” she said.

Community leader and musician Harold McMillan currently operates Kenny Dorham’s Backyard on the city-owned property 1100 block of East 11th Street, hosting concerts, food trucks, and community festivals. McMillan launched the East Austin Creative Coalition which has created plans for a complex that features an amphitheatre, rehearsal space and museum dedicated to Austin’s Black musicians.

Until the 1960s, the stretch of East 11th St. was home to a thriving community of Black-owned businesses, cinemas and music venues. East Austin’s Black community has now been almost entirely displaced.

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