The Economic Development Department’s Cultural Arts Funding Program supports cultural arts programs for the Austin community by contracting with arts organizations for specific services.

The Cultural Arts Division has administered various funding programs since 1981 through the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) authorized by state law. 

Why is the Cultural Funding Review Process needed now?

The Cultural Funding Review is necessary to correct the historical and structural disparities that have led to inequitable funding awards for decades. All proposed changes are made with equity in mind, helping to support those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as well.  

Delaying this process would perpetuate inequities that currently exist, maintain a closed-door to new applicants, and deny the opportunity for the City of Austin to make progress towards fostering a more inclusive cultural community. Additionally, Cultural Contractors could experience up to 91% cut in funds if staff maintains the current inequitable framework.  

For example:

  • An organization that received $75,000 in Fiscal Year 2021 would receive $6,750 in Fiscal Year 2022. This is both an award that is not meaningful and perpetuates the systemically racist elements of the Cultural Funding system. Instead, we could fund the most economically vulnerable with an amount that would make a difference. 

Based on extensive community input, staff and arts management professionals from MJR Partners identified several “big picture” concepts to inform draft programs and program guidelines: nurturing the cultural community, building institutions, and preserving cultural identity. In alignment with the City’s commitment to equity, departmental goals, and statutory requirements, programs will seek and prioritize:  

  • Individuals and organizations from historically underrepresented communities and histories, specifically Black/African American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA, and Disability Community members.  
  • Sustaining and growing Austin’s cultural infrastructure so that all may share in the economic and employment benefits of the heritage preservation and creative sectors.  
  • Proposals that directly enhance cultural experiences for tourists and convention delegates, including projects that highlight underrepresented histories and narratives. 
  • Improvements to process and administrative efficiencies to enhance the customer experience and reduce barriers to access. 
Importance of Equity

Racial equity is the condition when race no longer predicts a person’s quality of life outcomes in our community. The City of Austin recognizes historical and structural disparities and a need for alleviation of these wrongs by critically transforming its institutions and creating a culture of equity. 

The Cultural Arts Division acknowledges that previous Cultural Funding Program guidelines contributed to inequity. Staff examined how the existing policies influenced whose voices are heard, whose culture is protected, and who is most visible. Inequitable program elements include:  

  • Restricting awards and funding requests based on budget size 
  • Requiring fiscal sponsorship of individuals and unincorporated groups 
  • Limiting opportunities for cultural producers of color to access programs that foster growth 
  • Failing to collect valuable demographic and evaluative information from applicants and contractors to gauge performance  

 

The Cultural Funding Review Process has produced several relevant resources that reflect an evolving commitment to reshaping the ways in which the City invests in its cultural community through the Cultural Funding program: 

 

City of Austin Equity Support Resources: 

Vision and Goals for Cultural Equity

Four Visions for Cultural Equity 
Viewing the Cultural Funding Review Process through an equity lens reveals four ways that equity can be achieved (credit and inspiration from createequity.com):

  • Diversity - Mainstream institutions become more diverse and reflective of their communities 
  • Prosperity - Large-budget organizations intentionally shift a higher level of financial benefit and compensation to more artists of color. 
  • Redistribution - Funders provide more resources to organizations rooted in communities of color. 
  • Self-Determination – People of color have ownership over shaping cultural life in their communities. 

 

In community conversations, we heard the importance of:

  • Advancing diversity, inclusion and racial equity is a priority and that freedom of cultural expression is fundamental to civic life in the City of Austin.  
  • Program design takes a disruptive stance toward addressing the sense of entitlement that exists among long-time contractors. 
  • Commitment to equitable policies and practices are embedded in program design. 
  • Visible connections exist between organizational and community priorities. 
  • Benchmarks toward advancing organizations of color toward institution status are set and measurable. 
  • Cultural tourism is a visible outcome of program design and delivery. 

 

The Cultural Arts Division will measure operational equity through representation, redistribution of cultural funding, and other ways organizations have committed to ongoing equity efforts. To address historic inequities and systemic bias, City investment in historically marginalized groups (BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and Disability community member organizations) will be a priority. 

Cultural Contractor Data

 

Key data findings: 

  • In Fiscal Year 2019, up to $300,000 in award funding was spent to pay fiscal sponsors rather than being used to pay creatives to produce cultural arts programs.  
  • The City of Austin provided $20,000 to $40,000 pandemic relief grants to 133 Cultural Funding recipients, which supported and sustained these organizations during 2020 and 2021.  
  • There are fewer BIPOC Fiscal Sponsors compared to White Fiscal Sponsors 
  • No local arts organizations led by persons of color received funding through the federal Shuttered Venues Operators Grant.  
  • The average revenues for local arts organizations led by persons of color is $201,568. 

View a larger version of the Cultural Contractor Dashboard

Community Feedback

Staff collected extensive community input during the Cultural Funding Review process. Staff provided opportunities for public input through virtual webinars, commission meetings, work group sessions, virtual office hours, comment cards, and more. Collectively, this input informed staff’s recommendations for adjusting program guidelines to ensure that the City’s future cultural funding programs are more equitable and inclusive. 

Community feedback can be shared through the online comment box.

Community Engagement:

  • 1,160 unduplicated hours of engagement  
  • Feedback from more than 540 participants through 39 stakeholder listening sessions  
  • Input from the following:  
    • Cultural Contractors  
    • Community organizations (advocacy, unions, service, education, faith, funders) 
    • Council members and policy staff 
    • Commissioners 
    • Internal Stakeholders (Austin Public Health, Austin Convention Center, Anti-graffiti City task force, Austin Public Library, Equity Office, Parks and Recreation Department, Neighborhood Partnering Program, Transportation Dept – Placemaking, Office of Police Oversight) 

 

Meeting Resources: 

 

Additional Community, City Council, and Arts Commission Feedback: 

City Support

The City continues to prioritize emergency funding for creative organizations, businesses, and workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately $25 million has been provided by the City through various programs. View the City’s Economic Recovery Program dashboards for more details about funding levels for Austin creatives.

Additionally, Council adopted Resolution No. 20210610-077 in June 2021 to dedicate $13 million from the City’s federal American Rescue Plan Act allocation for arts and cultural organizations, businesses, and workers. Staff are currently studying guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department and collecting input from local stakeholders, which will inform the distribution of these funds.

Regarding Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) collections, there are insufficient funds to sustain the previous year's award levels. If staff maintains the the current inequitable framework, Cultural Contractors could experience up to a 91% cut in funds. 

 

Proposed Programs (subject to change): 

Thrive: Cultural Growth ​

  • Organizations must have a five-year operating history in Austin MSA  ​
  • Funding for general operating support, project support, and institutional improvements  ​

​Elevate: Supporting the Journey​

  • Open to cultural organizations of various sizes and types​
  • Encourages organizations to continue and expand operationalized equity​

Nexus: Creative Collaboration ​

  • Eligible organizations must have a budget under $250,000​
  • Funding for community-focused artistic collaborations