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Austin artists march on City Hall, say lost venues pose ‘a real crisis’

Carrying colorful signs reading “Save Our Theaters” and “The arts make Austin weird,” a group of artists paraded though downtown Austin to City Hall on Wednesday to call attention to the growing lack of affordable spaces for the city’s creative community.

“We want the City Council to know that we’re here and this is a real crisis,” said John Riedie, head of the nonprofit Austin Creative Alliance, which organized the rally.

Riedie said his organization recently polled 230 arts and music organizations and found that 52 percent reported that they expect to be displaced when their current lease expires because of rising rents.

“There’s nothing in the city’s upcoming budget or in the works that’s addressing this issue,” Riedie said.

In February, Mayor Steve Adler released the Music & Creative Ecosystem Omnibus Resolution, an array of resolutions to address affordability and other issues threatening Austin’s music and arts communities. City staff developed a list of recommendations that it released in July.

Yet in a specially-called meeting of the city’s arts commission in August, some criticized the city’s recommendations as lacking clout.

“The arts are the roots of Austin’s soul,” Florinda Bryant, a board member of Salvage Vanguard Theater, told the crowd Wednesday after it assembled in front of City Hall.

Salvage Vanguard Theater was forced out of its East Austin home of 10 years in June, the organization said, when new owners of the Manor Road warehouse increased the monthly rent from $6,000 to $18,000. The facility was not just home to its namesake theater company, but also a venue for nearly two dozen indie performing arts groups and festivals.

And after nearly 18 years of occupancy, theatre troupe the Rude Mechs announced it will vacate its venue off East Seventh Street next May because of a rent increase of 340 percent.

At City Hall, Salvage Vanguard artistic director Jenny Larson rallied the crowd to chant “give us the keys.”

“The city owns plenty of property that they could share with the arts community: recreation centers that aren’t open evenings, buildings and warehouses and offices that stand empty,” she said. “Why not give us the key so we can use that property?”

Riedie said his organization is crafting proposals for possible solutions, including a nonprofit land trust and incentives for developers.

“Something has to be done right now,” he said.

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