Austin Creative Alliance working to preserve creative space

Salvage Vanguard Theater expected to vacate building in June
Salvage Vanguard Theater expected to vacate building in June

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin is known as the live music capital of the world, but it’s more than entertainment. It’s also about money and jobs. A study by the Austin Music People Trade Association found the city’s music industry has a $1.8 billion dollar economic impact. Music also provides jobs for more than 20,000 people.

But some of those jobs are vanishing as Austin grows, pricing out places where artists perform. The cost crunch is hitting all kinds of performance spaces, and artists themselves. The Austin Creative Alliance brought together stakeholders Tuesday night, after feedback from a series of summits showed there’s shared concern over a severe lack of creative space.

True to its name, you’ll find improv comedy theatre, The Hideout, tucked away in the back of a coffee shop. A home it’s held for 17 years, thanks to people like Kaci Beeler.

“We were definitely worried that The Hideout was going to go away,” Beeler said. “I’m a performer, I started as a performer. The other members of the team are all performers. We weren’t thinking that we were going to be running a business.”

After more than a year of negotiations with landlords, The Hideout Theatre was able to stay.

“We thought, once improv and our business leaves downtown, we’ll never get back in,” Beeler said.

Others, like the Salvage Vanguard Theater, haven’t been able to hold on. “It’s vibrant, it’s accessible, it’s diverse, it’s busy 24/7 with theatre, film, comedy, dance, puppetry, everything, yoga,” Jenny Larson, of Salvage Vanguard Theater said.

But it’s not enough.

“It’s very sad to see something that is successful, sustainable, doing everything you want it to do, thriving, yet it’s going away,” Larson said.

The theater learned back in September that they’d have to be out by June to make way for new owners. “There’s no way that we can match the sort of skyrocketing property rates as they stand right now,” Larson said.

It’s another loss to the arts, music and cultural community the Austin Creative Alliance (ACA) is working to prevent, through ideas like a land trust to preserve creative space.

“There may be city property that may be out there that could be able to be used, and they may be able to help ease that process by which we can acquire land or other structures that are not being used,” ACA board member Dewy Brooks told KXAN.

“If we aren’t working together to create that, I’m afraid that a lot of these artists who are incredibly valuable and important and, you know, may be the next playwright, you’re going to be hearing about in New York , these people – where do they produce? Do they stay here? Will they stay here if they can’t find that space?” Larson said. “I would hate to think that we were unable to carve out a space for the creative class in Austin. I think that would break my heart.”

A heart, like many, that has found a home in Austin. And wants to be able to stay there.

Ideas ACA is proposing include the following:

  • The Austin Creative Trust
    • Establish and capitalize a land trust that will preserve our current creative infrastructure by empowering ownership and long term stability for arts, music and cultural organizations
  • Creative Enterprise Zones
    • Incentivize first floor office/gallery/studio space in large commercial and residential developments and offer benefits such as utility rebates and streamlined, discounted city permitting to existing cultural assets
  • Red River Cultural District
    • Create a redevelopment plan that entices additional cultural attractions and music venues to the district, coupled with focused tourism marketing that attracts more visitors to experience Austin music year round
  • Invest in Existing Solutions
    • Support thinkEast, smARTown, and the arts education campus/concert hall complex proposed by the coalition of Conspirare, Austin Chamber Music and Austin Classical Guitar
  • At Risk Venue Utility Rebate
    • Create a fund and eligibility criteria so the city can give immediate aide to our most threatened facilities
  • Creative Infrastructure Bond
    • Give voters the opportunity to fully fund the ideas in fall of 2018

The city and the Austin Music Commission are hosting a series of meetings to allow the public to weigh in on the city’s music industry. The goal is to get feedback on Mayor Steve Adler’s music resolution, which aims to keep musicians in Austin. One proposal includes a fund to pay for affordable housing. The next meeting is at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Strange Brew on Manchaca Road.

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