The Arts in Austin Need our Commitment and Support at this Critical Time
Steve Adler, mayor of Austin, Texas, and Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, penned the following opinion piece in Austin during the 2016 National Arts Marketing Project Conference, which concluded on Monday, November 14.
Austin’s title as the Live Music Capital of the World is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the value of the arts here. It is a city where you can explore the work of designers, painters, sculptors, writers, photographers, filmmakers, dancers and musicians, at any time of year, any day of the week, in a variety of venues. Creativity, however expressed, is something to be treasured, but we can take it for granted at the same time we’re worried about losing it. At this critical time, we must commit to the arts and support what we love about Austin.
This commitment is not only to creativity and the wellbeing of our communities, but also to economic success. The dollars spent supporting the arts are a core investment in the $4.3 billion creative industry of Austin. The creative economy generates $71 million a year in new taxes and employs 49,000 people, according to a study conducted by TXP, Inc.
Local artists and musicians aren’t only economically important to Austin, but they’re a key part of the city’s identity. Unfortunately, it is no secret that with growth and development touching every corner of Austin, and rents and property values increasing greatly as a result, we are losing our artists, and ultimately much more than jobs—we are losing the spirit of our city, what we are known for, and what draws visitors. According to Austin Music People, the city said goodbye to 1,200 jobs in the music sector in just the last four years. We won’t be the Live Music Capital of the World much longer if we keep losing musicians and music venues. We have already seen performance spaces such as Salvage Vanguard shutter, and more are in peril of losing their leases.
The Music & Creative Ecosystem Omnibus Resolution is a start. Introduced earlier this year, it is an extensive plan to address affordability issues threatening Austin’s music and arts communities, re-energize the local music economy, keep the city’s iconic venues open, and provide job training for working musicians. Specific, concrete action is being taken by the city and this work is ongoing.
Austin has distinguished itself as a city striving to make positive change, and national groups have taken notice. Last week, Americans for the Arts, along with the City of Austin, brought more than six hundred arts professionals from around the country to participate in the 2016 National Arts Marketing Project Conference and discuss new ways cultural institutions can attract wider and more diverse audiences to attend cultural events, and in turn generate more revenue. Cultivating larger local arts audiences and attracting tourism spending should be part of any American city’s future economic planning, and these discussions came at an ideal time for Austin.
Eyes are now on the residents of Austin, who must unite in a community-wide effort to retain the city’s creative producers and keep the spirit and soul of Austin alive, even in small ways. The return on even the smallest investment can be huge. Buy the painting, tip the musician, get the ticket to the small theater production—and take your children and friends. We have not just the option, but the obligation to do all that we can. Artists are leaving the city and changes to our local arts scene have not been happening at a leisurely pace, and our response can’t either.
There are ways to take part. Visit www.nowplayingaustin.com to find a listing of arts events happening all over the city. Check out the East Austin Studio Tour taking place this weekend (east.bigmedium.org), where you can explore hundreds of artist work spaces and discover a wide range of locally produced artwork. Anyone can be an arts supporter—join in!