City expanding program that provides artists low-rent space

Performance (KXAN Photo)
Performance (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city has taken new steps in an effort to preserve a slice of what makes Austin special.

Over the next two years, the city will spend $240,000 to help support artist residency programs at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center and the Dougherty Arts Center. The Artist Access Program will also expand to the Asian American Resource Center and George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.

Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department says expansion of the program has the potential to provide an additional 144 artists access to low-cost rental space.

After losing its east Austin home last year from sky-rocketing rent, Salvage Vanguard Theater moved into the Dougherty Arts Center in April.

“One of the best positives is we have a home. That we’re able to produce. That it’s affordable. That we have rehearsal space,” Salvage Vanguard Theater’s Florinda Bryant said, adding the challenge is, “A lot of folks identify us with Manor Road and we are still being asked, you know, oh, sorry to hear you guys shut down and it’s like no we’re still here!”

The move is forcing the theater to take a closer look at its marking plan, one the city will now help with. Two temporary staff members will open and close the cultural centers, provide technical and marking support, to attract tourists and convention delegates to the performances.

“It’s definitely been a challenge for us. New location, traffic, and, you know, going on the other side of town,” Bryant said, explaining the space allows them to do wonderful work but, “This is a temporary fix. We’re really grateful for the band-aid, but it is a band-aid.”

The city says artists in the expanded Artists Access Program will be chosen by a community panel. It will look at alignment with the mission of each cultural center and ability of the program to attract tourists.

The city has also taken steps to expand hours at cultural centers, keeping them open until 11 p.m. during the week for the next two years. The goal is to encourage more rehearsals and performances.

“We just don’t have any other place to go. There’s not enough theaters that we all can afford,” Bryant said. “On one hand we’re very grateful we have these opportunities, but we recognize that like this is gonna get us by, but now what are we going to do to be a more long-term solution?”

Solutions the city is still working to identify.

These aren’t the only steps being taken to help local artists. For example last month, City Council extended a pilot program to allow live music until midnight on Thursdays and 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The change in the Red River district will last until April. The program aims to increase bookings and bring in more money to music venues on Red River. Last month, city leaders told KXAN revenue was already up 25 percent from last year.

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