Archived Story

Commission for the Arts, Austin Art Center could join forces in the Bank Building

Published 10:15am Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Two of Austin’s biggest arts organizations could merge over the next few months.

The Austin Area Commission for the Arts and the Austin Area Art Center are in early talks to at least partner under a new location at the old Bank Building in downtown Austin at the corner of Second Avenue Northeast and North Main Street.

“We’re basically exploring whether or not it’s in our best interest to merge or whether we can be a partnership,” said Jennie Knoebel, the commission’s executive director.

The groups have been in talks to partner since the commission announced its intentions to create a new art center for Austin earlier this year.

That would mean a larger space for the art center to host exhibits and hold classes, according to Willy Olson, art center board president.

Olson said the groups have talked for some time over the project, which would move the art center out of its location at the Oak Park Mall.

Yet both groups only recently discussed a potential merger.

“That’s kind of the direction we’re looking at,” Olson said.

Though the move would mean a combined board of directors and some changes to the way each organization is run, both Knoebel and Olson said there are many positives to such a merger, as the 20-or-so art center volunteers would still get to run the art gallery side of things while Knoebel’s staff would continue working for the Paramount and performing administrative duties for the art center, among other tasks.

Both sides are in the early stages of planning, however. Knoebel and Olson said the groups are unsure whether a merger is best, as neither group knows whether combining would limit their grant status or community funding, or whether the red tape would allow an easy transition into one organization. At the very least, both sides will be involved in the new art center.

“We want to make sure that everyone understands we’re working together on this,” Knoebel said. “We’re trying to do what’s best for both organizations.”

Both groups are moving forward on the bank building, as the group will likely rent part of the space from owner Patrick Bradley. That project is in its early stages as well, and Knoebel said commission staff are working to draw up floor plans for a potential arts center space. The proposed arts center in the Bank Building would house the commission office, free up more space at the Paramount Theatre, and hold an art gallery, a potential wine bar, and arts shop, among other ideas.

The commission is also in charge of the Austin ArtWorks Festival, which will take place Aug. 24 and 25, as well as plans for an upcoming Paramount expansion, which volunteers have talked about for decades. Commission officials said the recent arts developments are part of a move to unify the arts community within Austin and grow within the city while big projects under the Vision 2020 improvement initiative take place.

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