City of Austin cultural centers found inefficient — Sightlines

Operating hours that do not meet public needs, delayed maintenance and an inefficient system for leasing facilities have threatened the city’s ability to make its cultural centers as accessible as possible, according to a detailed audit report from the city inspector’s office

The 50-page report was presented during the Austin City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee on August 19th.

The audit, which the city council requested in 2019, looked at the cultural centers operated by the city: the Asian American Resource Center; the Mexican-American cultural center Emma S. Barrientos; the George Washington Carver Museum, Culture and Genealogy Center; and the African American Cultural and Heritage Facility.

All cultural centers are overseen by the Department of Parks and Recreation (PARD), with the exception of the African American Cultural and Heritage Facility, which is part of the Department of Economic Development (EDD).

The auditors found that limited or inconvenient hours of operation, a lack of information about available facilities on the centre’s websites, and maintenance issues that prevent full use of the available space are preventing the community from using facilities in cultural centers.

The Austin art scene has faced a crisis of affordable and available space for years.

The auditors also found that at least a fifth of the use of the center was outside of normal business hours of each center, suggesting that the centers do not have opening hours that coincide with the cultural activities. For example, in the African-American cultural and heritage facility, 88% of usage is outside of business hours.

The cultural center staff do not consistently track denials of reservation requests, the report said, limiting the ability to determine how many requests have been received and granted. There is also no consensus on how the centers collect and charge fees. For example, at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American cultural center, staff did not charge a council-approved fee for renting the center’s auditorium.

Councilor Leslie Pool said she was “concerned to hear that staff had taken upon themselves to cut or waive fees” without any approval.

The recommendations of the report included a comprehensive overhaul of the rental fee system in all cultural centers and greater transparency of the space available. The auditors also recommended that the centers optimize their hours of operation to meet community needs and make services more affordable for the target audience.

Two centers have significant deferred ADA and maintenance needs. Emma S. Barrientos’ Mexican-American Cultural Center has a minimum maintenance requirement of $ 380,400, while the George Washington Carver Museum’s Cultural and Genealogy Center has $ 700,866.

Parks and Recreation Director Kimberly McNeeley and Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, Deputy Director of Economic Development, endorsed the auditors’ report and recommendations for implementing improvements over the next year.

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