I’ve been following CreateAustin. It represents significant structure to the arts in Austin. Ever since they presented their recommendations to City Council, it’s been difficult to get any news. Now that I have some, I don’t know what to do.
I was always uneasy about having to share resources with film and music in town, but I thought CreateAustin extended goodwill towards those sectors by including them in their planning. Now that music wants to break away, I don’t know if there should be a fight to keep them.
I’m getting this information second-hand, but it sounds like CreateAustin was thinking of music and film from a cultural perspective while the music community is acting out from a business perspective. Should music have its own department? Or should music have a sub-department within the CreateAustin recommended Department of Arts and Culture?
Dear Fellow CreateAustin Participant,
Yesterday, in response to a presentation by the Music Community, Council became enthusiastic about the idea of creating an independent Music Department in the City. On the face of it, this appears to contradict an earlier recommendation to Council that came out of our CreateAustin initiative.
Today I sent variations of the letter below to our Mayor and Council. I urge you to consider contacting Council as well to register your views.
Executive Dir., Austin Circle of Theaters
Letter I sent:
I understand that yesterday the Music Community made a presentation to Council to ask for a separate Music Department and that there was instant support voiced for the proposal. In fact, it seems this could be set up very quickly.
While we all greatly benefit from the significant contributions of our music community, I have questions about how this recommendation fits with the recommendation CreateAustin made to council in April that a single City Department of Arts and Culture be created? To quote form the Executive Summary of that year long cultural planning initiative:
Create a City Department of Arts and Culture.
What? Consolidating all arts, culture, music and film activities into one department charged with creativity development will raise the importance of these issues within the City organization and make their work more effective.
Why? Activities and funds are spread across departments, creating a lack of focus, missed opportunities for leveraging City resources, and a lack of a unified vision and coordination.
The recommendation that Austin have a single City Department of Arts and Culture was part of a series of interconnected recommendations that many of us in the arts and cultural community are still actively working on.
What is supposed to happen to those of us working on setting up the Leadership Council and the separate community based Creative Alliance that will work in tandem with this single department for Arts and Culture?
We have been acting in good faith that these other recommendations would be taken seriously. And we have been heartened by the fact that the Mayors 10 Point Plan for Cities adopted in 2008 also recommended a national Cabinet level Secretary of Culture and Tourism charged with forming a national policy for arts, culture and tourism. It made us feel like Austin was ahead of the curve.
Perhaps creating a separate Music Department is seen as an incremental step towards creating a single department? It’s certain that combining disparate entities into a single unit is not always easy. But our President-Elect seems to feel this can be addressed. Hopefully those of us who share the bond of arts and creativity would be able to bridge differences.
It is always tempting to separate the nonprofit arts out from the for profit arts as if what makes the money is real and what needs money is somehow not good enough. Sort of like the air we breathe? It’s getting to be more costly and what does it earn — besides life?
Bill Ivey warns in his newest book, Arts, Inc. How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights. (Ivey is a former chair of NEA and The Country Music Foundation – and on Obama’s transition team.)
“The expanding footprint of copyright, an unconstrained arts industry marketplace, and a government unwilling to engage culture as a serious arena for public policy have come together to undermine art, artistry, and cultural heritage—the expressive life of America.”
We in the nonprofit arts community are not against strengthening the support for our music and film industries. They very much need and deserve our support. But we feel creating a separate department that ignores the recommendations of our CreateAustin planning initiatives has unintended negative consequences that do exactly what Bill Ivey so eloquently warns against above: It expands the commercialization of culture while undermining our citizens’ right — and access — to heritage, creative expression, and a creative life.
Again, I thank you for your leadership in Austin and urge you to consider the recommendations of our CreateAustin initiative as you lead our Council and community forward.
I’ll tell you ’bout what I sees.