Austin survey proves lack of space for creative nonprofits, but some ideas are working

Latinitas new office springdale general

In the first survey of its kind, more than 500 Austin artists and arts organizations said they continue to struggle to find work and performance space, and half of the individual artists said they had considered moving. Results of the City of Austin Economic Development Department 2017 Creative Space Survey, released this week, paint a more detailed picture about the kinds of artists and arts organizations that need space, what kind of space they need, and what they consider affordable. Austin officials say the data will help them develop new strategies for working with public and private partners to make more affordable, appropriate space available.

One particular set of data painted a picture of just how perilous the situation can be for artists and arts organizations. The survey revealed that 38 percent of respondents say they have paid for space they could not afford, 23 percent of organizations say they are in a tenuous month-to-month lease, 12 percent of organizations say they need a space or are in danger of losing their space within the next year, and 51 percent of individual artists say they have considered leaving Austin.

“It’s alarming but not surprising,” said Shirley Rempe, the city’s project manager for the survey. Rempe added that the survey paints a broad picture of the situation because it included responses from individual artists as well as from arts nonprofit and for-profit organizations. “That was another reason for that survey, to capture those attitudes and perceptions of affordability. If there’s still a perception that creative spaces are out of reach, then that’s something that we need to address,” said Rempe.

Other important details emerged from the survey that can inform future efforts. For example, about 30 percent of the respondents said they only needed a space occasionally. Information like that could influence city-led programs like Arts in Sacred Places, the effort to work with faith-based spaces, which are amenable to artists and offer rental rates below market.

More than half of the arts organizations, including nonprofits and businesses, reported that their current space was too small, which can often hinder growth. Laura Donnelley, CEO of Latinitas, a nonprofit that helps girls explore the arts, media, and technology, says a grant from the City’s experimental Art Space Assistance program last fall helped them move into a bigger space, which will allow Latinitas to expand its programming and fundraising opportunities. This June, Latinitas moved from paying $1,500 a month for a 700-square-foot space to about $3,000 a month for a 2,400-square foot space in the privately owned Springdale General development, which was built to be a hub for creative and nonprofit organizations. Springdale General is one of a handful of new, privately owned developments like Shady Lane Creative Studios and The Yard at St. Elmo, catering to the needs of the arts community.

“Now we can have a VR studio, a graphic design lab, a coding academy,” said Donnelley. “When you have a small space and don’t know where you’re going to be, you feel paralyzed to do anything new or grow, so I do feel liberated by that. Having more space just opened up so many new doors.”

PHOTO: Latinitas staff enjoy the much-needed new space at Springdale General in East Austin.

NOTE: This story was also published in the Austin American-Statesman on  July 15, 2018.
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