March 2014 Essential Class Day Takeaways

March 2014 Essential Class Day Takeaways

Guest post from Essential Class of 2014 participant LaTonya Pegues, with her thoughts on the March class day on arts and creativity. LaTonya is CEO of BOAZ Enterprises.

bl_14-05-02_peguesWhat a memorable time we had during our Arts and Creativity class day at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s go!

Cookie Ruiz, Executive Director of Ballet Austin, began the day with her perspective on “The Impact of Creativity on Austin’s Community.” Cookie was a member of the Leadership Austin Essential class of 1995, which is the same class from which new Leadership Austin CEO Christopher Kennedy graduated!

Cookie discussed some thought provoking issues in her presentation that not only surrounded the issues involving the creative arts in Austin, but also pertaining to the quality of life challenges full-time artists and creative people have living in Austin, such as affordable housing.

Here are a few helpful links to find out more about culture and arts in Austin from an economic perspective:

Speaking of creativity, our class was blown away as we viewed a video clip of the Power Up documentary Allison Orr, artistic director of Forklift Danceworks, shared with us. I was amazed to see what lengths the employees of Austin Energy go to to make sure we have service 24 hours a day, as well as the creativity that was put forth in a production where vehicles, light posts, and various equipment were used to create an artistic production set to music. It was an added bonus to hear the back story of how the project came to be from Allen Small, the Distribution Director of Austin Energy, who happens to also be a nationally known slam poet.

After lunch, Marcy Hoen, Executive Director for Austin Creative Alliance, presented on the challenges the creative class has in Austin. Quite a few of the issues revolve around lack of affordability and low economic opportunity. Her panelists included: Dr. Billy Harden, Executive Director of the Spectrum Theater Company; Eugenio del Bosque Gomez, Executive Director for Cine Las Americas; Jennifer Chenoweth, artist at Fisterra Studio; and Graham Reynolds, composer and band leader.

Dr. Harden remarked that African American actors have a difficult time getting lead roles and acting jobs in Austin, and as a result many are moving to New York to find more acting work.

Some discussed issues around being able to afford housing in Austin, the need for affordable healthcare and transportation, funding issues to be able to create the type of art one wants for creativity sake, and not just to make a living, and others mentioned the need for higher wages and fees to help artists live above the bare bones basics in Austin.

The sights and sounds of March class day

There is no doubt that there is a thriving and creative industry in Austin. So much so, Ms. Hoen mentioned, that the creative sector brought in an estimated $856 million to the Austin economy. The question becomes, how to ensure the wealth is spread among those who are still making an impact in the industry, but don’t seem to feel a greatly positive impact in their pocket. Here are reports and data regarding the economic impact of the creative sector in Austin.

We were oh so inspired by Conspire Theatre! So glad Michelle Dahlenburg, the Director of Conspired Theatre, was able to have Ashika Coleman-Carter, Lauren Johnson, Dara Musick, and Margie Stone join us for our class. These ladies have served time in the Texas prison system—in some cases, multiple times—and they shared their stories through poetry and creative hand and body motions. It was eye opening to hear some of the obstacles the women had to face in order to live their lives after incarceration.

It’s interesting that quite a lot of our day was spent discussing the issue of affordable housing and the quality of life for Austinites in the arts and creative community. Though the topic was the arts, we continue to see how all of these issues are interconnected, and time and time again the discussion comes back to affordability and affordable housing.

Leaders, we must take on these hard issues and do our part to solve them. It has been too long that so many disparities have continued to be perpetuated in Austin, TX. Let’s keep moving towards parity for all of Austin, and err on the side of inclusion.