Imagine Austin priority program 3: Grow and invest in Austin’s creative economy

his post is part of a series on Imagine Austin’s priority programs, in light of Austin’s current CodeNEXT rewrite process. View the entire series here.

“The possible disappearance of live music venues, art spaces and other Keep Austin Weird-type businesses in favor of mixed-use condominium developments could undermine the city’s reputation as a creative hub, which helped fuel its growth in the first place.”

Austin Business Journal (April 2015)

 “Failure to address affordability endangers the economic security of us all. A sizable segment of Austin’s economy and the city’s brand is based on the entertainment industry. Businesses attract new talent based on the city’s reputation, whether their core products are semiconductors or homes.”

Austin American-Statesman Editorial Board (June 2015)

In 2012, Imagine Austin anticipated two key challenges to the future of our city’s multibillion dollar creative economy:

  • Affordable, accessible, and functional studio, performance, rehearsal, and office spaces for small organizations and individual artists.
  • Affordable residential units and transportation options for artists and creatives as housing costs and land values in the urban core rise.

Numerous studies commissioned by the city as well and research conducted by independent nonprofit organizations like Austin Music People have validated these predictions, as well as what many Austinites already knew from hard personal experience: our local artists and creative industry workers are among the many citizens finding it more and more difficult to live and do business in a city that is increasingly becoming unaffordable for middle- and lower-income workers.

Downtown development of relatively expensive condos and apartments are pushing low and middle-income artists and creative industry workers further out of the central City core. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these individuals are beginning to move out of Austin altogether due to the cumulative effect of affordability issues.

The Imagine Austin plan identified other challenges as well: the importance of using arts and creativity to build community and strengthen Austin’s multicultural identity; the lack of access to arts and creative resources experienced by specific populations; the need for workforce development geared toward the creative industries from elementary school programs to opportunities for adult learners.

The Imagine Austin plan noted that “collecting consistent and thorough data on a regular basis is important to measuring the plan’s progress.”  To that end, a baseline was calculated for the seven different Complete Communities Indicators tied to this priority:

  • Dedicated municipal finding for arts (dollars per capita)
  • Private funding for arts (dollars per capita)
  • Arts programs in schools and neighborhood recreation centers
  • Attendance at arts/cultural events
  • Money brought into economy from arts/cultural events
  • Live music venues
  • Households within 1/2 mile distance of art/cultural venue (percent)

At this time, no updated data on these metrics has been provided by City staff to document whether progress has been made in the last four years.  However, independent research, such as the economic impact study commissioned by Austin Music People from TXP Inc. in February 2016, indicate areas of continued concern: for example, in the space of four years, Austin’s internationally-lauded commercial music sector lost 1,200 jobs.  

Some efforts to reverse the trend of creative stress—and ultimately, flight—have been made. In March 2016, City Council approved Mayor Adler’s Music & Creative Ecoystems Omnibus Resolution, which directed the City Manager and staff to come up with a plan to stabilize and develop this critical sector of our regional economy.  The staff report on this resolution is presently overdue but, assuming it is delivered to Council shortly, action could be taken as soon as late June 2016, allowing for new and/or streamlined initiatives to be considered in budget conversations for the new fiscal year.  Priorities to be addressed in the omnibus include affordable space, health and educational services, industry and professional development, and city regulations, operations, and incentives—all of which are intentionally aligned with both the Imagine Austin priorities as well as with a variety of Complete Communities Indicators.Imagine Austin priority programs series