TODO Austin is launching a series of collaborations with local performing arts organizations this month. Announcements are forthcoming, and with respect to these new ventures, our cover features a snapshot of what Austin’s music solidarity might look like in the near future. Photographer Mari Hernandez recently captured Austin Symphony Orchestra conductor Peter Bay with members of local Latin-music fixture, Los A-T Boyz, at the A. B. Cantu Pan American Rec Center’s summer Hillside concert series. It was the Maestro’s first visit to the venue, and despite the heat, he expressed his pleasure at discovering the wealth of music appreciation in the Eastside.
In recent years, premiere groups like the Long Center and Texas Performing Arts have made sincere efforts to increase program diversity and outreach. It is, of course, good business to pay more than lip service to the local Hispanic, Asian and African-American populations; but not an economic necessity just yet. Increasing patronage from ethnic minorities is a challenge that has no easy answers and there’s no point in looking back in Austin’s history for clues. Simply put, Austin arts have survived – even flourished – on the support of one select demographic.
Under-served communities move cautiously toward the ticket box office, for a variety of reasons. For evidence of the cultural chasm, peruse any major performing arts group’s slick, printed program and study the list of the organization’s financial benefactors. The surnames underscore Austin arts’ ethnic exclusivity. Likewise, faces-of-color are too often equally sparse among seated patrons.
The good news is that key Austin arts’ administrators are a dynamic lot. Their marketing plans promise to be as bold and innovative as the creative industry, itself. As for the response from those being targeted, who are asked to invest their resources in the arts, we have apparently arrived at the hour where we can either join voices as a united chorus – in harmony – or hit a sour note.
Speaking of avoidably limited support, a recent report stated that the percentage of students from low-income families in Austin has been shrinking. Schoolchildren from lower socioeconomic households in the Austin Independent School District plunged to 59.7 percent in 2014-15.
In response to this news, Paul Saldaña, Austin ISD Trustee District 6, made five pointed observations worth noting. 1) Austin continues to be the most economically segregated city in the U.S.; 2) AISD’s student enrollment continues to decrease (now in year three of student enrollment decline as families are moving to nearby suburbs); 3) While some families may not meet the federal definition of low-income and/or qualify for free and/or reduced lunch, many families are still struggling with affordability issues and to maintain a quality of life in Austin; 4) Over 50,511 AISD students out of 84,609 still technically meet the federal definition of low-income or economically disadvantage; and 5) The total number of Title 1 schools in AISD continues to increase; today 78 of 129 campuses are Title 1 schools compared to 55 Title 1 schools 10-15 years ago. Saldaña’s hard facts leave much to ponder as kids return to school in August.
On a happier endnote, help celebrate KAZI-FM 88.7’s 33 years of service to Austin at its Summer Festival on Saturday, Aug. 8, at the Travis County Expo Center Arena. For more info, go to kazisummerfest.org.