Like many growing cities, Austin’s cultural facilities and arts spaces have increasingly found themselves threatened by rising rents, encroaching developments and an increasingly competitive real estate market. Recognising the need for a multifaceted approach and new relationships between City departments and across the spectrum of private-public partnerships to address the underlying constraints, Austin’s Cultural Arts Division introduced a number of cross-sector programmes, initiatives and policy changes to address these affordability issues in support of the city’s creative and cultural infrastructure.
Creative space preservation and development is part of an ongoing effort to ensure all residents of Austin have expression. The Cultural Arts Division aims to develop policies and permitting processes that go beyond onesize- fits-all solutions to better suit the diverse and creative forms cultural spaces can take. Within this broad goal, the Cultural Arts Division is becoming more involved in land use planning, code compliance, private-public partnership development and other types of relationships. Partnerships are being developed to activate underutilised or vacant spaces for artistic and creative use. New programmes have been developed with NGO Partners for Sacred Places and Mindpop, as well as Austin Independent School District, to match local churches and schools with creative organisations which are looking for space.
The Cultural Arts Division is directly investing in the stabilisation of cultural space by providing funding to organisations seeking to meet code compliance and rent subsidies to cultural spaces facing sizable rent hikes and/or displacement through the Art Space Assistance Program (ASAP). It is working with other Divisions within the Economic Development Department to implement revisions to the City of Austin’s development incentives, tools and loans framework which now allows more options for incentivising development that would provide a public benefit, specifically including creative projects. There are also proposed revisions to the City’s land use code to facilitate creative spaces citywide.
These initiatives are just the beginning of ongoing efforts to address the creation and retention of cultural space. Key to this is the goal of equitable cultural development that does not continue to gentrify or displace marginalised groups within the community who are most affected by a lack of affordability. Over the long term, the City aims for these efforts to create an expanded menu of options and opportunities for creative spaces, ensuring new spaces can be created and existing ones improved. It is hoped this work will pave the way for longstanding partnerships across the City of Austin, to ensure the right regulatory and policy environment exists for affordable, flexible and innovative creative spaces to grow and thrive.