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Small Arts Groups Fed to Media Machine

…to cover the taste of same old same old.

Look ma! Tuna noodle casserole arts coverage.

The big news ($77M Big!) in Austin arts for the moment is the opening this weekend of the Long Center for the Performing Arts. It is a beautiful venue stocked with all sorts of state of the art goodies in 2 indoor venues and some outdoor possibilities.

The staff is smart, capable, and hard working, and all of that $77M is visible. So why am I so cynical? Why am I not dancing in the streets? I mean I’m performing there in just over 6 weeks!

Two things really. One? We continue to perpetrate the idea that we have to move to our audience. Jeanne Claire Van Ryzin opens the article like so:

Location, location, location.

Like in real estate, in the arts, where you are can matter just as much as what you do.

That’s why next week, when the first of many shows by some of  Austin’s small and midsize arts groups start filling the new Long Center for the Performing Arts, it might seem that some of these groups are having their very first premiere.

She is referring to the Rude Mechanicals. The Rudes are landed gentry. They have their own space, and they are on the Texas Commission for the Arts and City of Austin dole. This group isn’t up and coming, they’re here for all theatrical values of here.

We allow our language to make them smaller than they are. They perform east of 35 so this is "like" their premiere? They aren’t the three anchor tenants (ballet, symphony, opera) so they are spoken of with the same dismissive tones. Which is not a trait of the author, Jeanne Claire is an active advocate for Austin arts, but this is very much the feeling in audiences. If they aren’t performing in a venue with wood paneling and concessions the venue isn’t worth it.

I don’t know how to combat that feeling in them.

But the big lie in the Long Center opening is of course that small theatre (or dance) groups can afford the space at all. Musicians who don’t require the in-space lead a time may be able to  but if you need to do a full hang, load-in and tech? It’s not going to happen.

From the article the Rudes were partially underwritten and the rental was waived. The landed gentry couldn’t afford to come across 35 to perform in the big white house.

This isn’t to say that the Long Center staff don’t want it to be true. They do. I believe whole heartedly that given their druthers they would have that space full every week with different redheaded stepchildren. I believe that Cliff Redd was being genuine when he said that he wanted to have the blue hairs and the pink hairs meet in the hallway and mixnmingle.

But they have bills to pay, and that has to come from somewhere.

So even if their rental subsidy program takes care of your rental fees (the highest in the town). The charge you a per ticket fee. You either have to use their concessions or pay them a percentage of yours. You have to pay them a percentage of your durable concessions. All the little ways a small company could make some money back get taxed.

The only way for Cambiare Productions to present at the Long Center would be to get a Catalyst 8 rental subsidy AND a reasonably sized City of Austin grant. And there is no way to use the Long Center’s cultural cache to make a windfall to fund the rest of a short season, you will have difficulty breaking even.

None of which I mind. That’s the reality of the game.

I just want for that truth to be presented rather than this idea that the Long Center is going to save the Austin performing arts community from life on the far side of 35.