Preservation of creative space isn’t happening quickly enough, artists say

Group says the city needs to do more to preserve creative spaces (KXAN Photo)
Group says the city needs to do more to preserve creative spaces (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s been more than a year since Mayor Steve Adler first introduced an initiative called the “Austin Music & Creative Ecosystem Omnibus Resolution” to help artists struggling to survive in the increasingly expensive city.

City staff report they’re making progress on helping non-profit venues that are getting priced out, along with movement on other initiatives, but not quickly enough for some.

“The Off Center” is prepping to move out, after seeing the latest lease renewal offer.

Alexandra Bassett, managing director of Rude Mechs, the collective that operates the east Austin performance warehouse, told KXAN, “The performance of ‘Not Every Mountain’ is sort of a prayer for our space and a goodbye to The Off Center, which has been our home for 17 years.”

It’s a home that will no longer have a welcome mat come May 15. “Our rent went up about four times the price that it was originally,” Bassett shared, saying it’s no longer sustainable.

Rude Mechs reports about 18,000 audience members pass through The Off Center’s doors each year. “The Rude Mechs have been Austin artists that have made their work here, and traveled across the country and internationally because of what Austin allowed them to be able to make here, by being an affordable city for so long,” Bassett explained.

Salvage Vanguard Theater experienced a similar struggle a year ago when its rent tripled, forcing artists out. It’s now operating in a temporary space in the Dougherty Arts Center.

For Florinda Bryant, the managing director for Salvage Vanguard, and many others, “It was a home. It was a hub.”

A colorful home, filled with memories inside the walls now painted over white for the next tenant. “It feels like a slap in the face. I think the arts have clearly contributed to the economy of this city,” she said.

To understand just how much they contribute, Salvage Vanguard says 54 companies presented work in their space in a year’s time and nearly 8,000 people experienced art at its venue last year before it closed.

“We’re theater artists, we don’t quit. We keep going,” Bryant said. “We’ll keep doing it, but it sure would be easier if we didn’t have to almost die to be able to afford our space.”

Bassett, looks to the omnibus that promised space. “It is unconscionable to me that a space like this, that is doing such good for this community… can’t continue at a time when we have the omnibus with us,” she said.

The city says it researched options to best use $200,000 in transitional funding set aside for performing arts and creative affordable space needs. The Economic Development Department says it plans to ask city council for approval of a grant, versus loan program, to “support nonprofits facing permanent displacement, those previously displaced, or with lease renewals at substantially higher rates.”

According to a city memo, criteria will include project need, readiness, scope and request amount and notes, “Priority will be given to organizations confronting immediate and critical needs.”

In a progress report of sorts to the mayor and council, city staff reported the first of two positions created for an entertainment services group has been filled. The manager is responsible for music-related permitting and the city is about to interview for a music program specialist.

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