CodeNEXT Creates a More Sustainable Infrastructure for Music, Arts and Culture
In spite of a reputation (we come by honestly) for being civically disengaged, members of Austin’s arts and music communities have been deeply engaged in CodeNEXT — from the earliest days to its latest revision: attending meetings, following media narratives, reading revisions, inviting our fellow artists and musicians to participate in the process and contributing ideas and language with each enormous draft.
It’s not hard to understand why.
Austin’s creative community unequivocally enriches the lives of residents and serves as a leading draw for the the city’s millions of annual visitors. Our theaters, galleries, studios and music venues each provide space for people to build community, create and define place and share their unique heritage and history. Yet, these institutions and the creative community at large are severely threatened by affordability issues including the rising costs of operating nonprofits and small commercial businesses in Austin.
We see CodeNEXT as an opportunity to partially address this threat.
By specifying cultural land uses in terms of types, scale and site development standards, the City provides a mechanism for applying future funding, incentives and districting programs that will aid the economic development efforts to support and retain Austin’s vital creative sectors. The most recent CodeNEXT draft includes several important improvements that positively impact
Austin’s arts and music environments:
Better Descriptions of “Live Performance”
CodeNEXT includes descriptions and definitions of “live performance” (theater, dance, music) that reflect how such businesses operate in the 21st century, including the allowance of limited alcohol sales and specifying live performance uses be outright permitted throughout the city near hubs like Highland Mall, Downtown, the Domain area, Southpark Meadows, Oak Hill, Mueller, Lakeline, or East Riverside.
Why this matters: The current code only defines “live theater” for “commercial presentation of plays or other dramatic performance to an audience,” ignoring nonprofit events, dance, music, or fusion. As a commercial use, “theater” is lumped in with “movie theater” as a land use, and regulated the same way.
Theaters and Music Venues Designated as Pedestrian-Oriented Uses
Pedestrian-oriented usage is applied as a requirement for first floors of parking garages and along street fronts in Downtown and certain mixed-use and transit-oriented districts.
Why this matters: This opens up new opportunities for synergies associated with locating galleries, theaters, dining, and open space in walkable friendly spaces.
Live Music Designated as a Community Benefit
The Downtown density bonus program includes Live Music as a Community Benefit (secondary to affordable housing) that grants a larger building if a live music venue is included on the first floor.
Why this matters: Establishing more clusters of live music venues will create more opportunities for artists to reach their fans, and vice versa.
Expanded Cultural Uses Definition
Libraries, museums, public art galleries, live performance venues, and studios (for art, dance, martial arts, or music) are all included in the “Cultural Uses” definition, for which greater building entitlements are granted when a cultural use is included in the building.
Why this matters: This measure incentivizes the creation of cultural space throughout the city.
While we support these new use specifications in CodeNEXT and believe they will increase the opportunity for music and cultural spaces to thrive, we also believe that more can be done. Missing from the latest draft is an idea that our cohort of artists and musicians continues to advocate for: the addition of a specific section for “Art, Music, and Culture,” so that all the relevant rules, entitlements, and definitions for the built environment related to arts/music/culture would be both in one place for ease of use and placed on the same level of importance as environmental protection and open space in our city code. In addition, although the CodeNEXT draft contains a new definition of “Live Music,” Live Music Venue is not included as a land use category distinguished from “Bar/Nightclub,” which is defined as a “An establishment where alcoholic beverages are offered for sale for onsite consumption as its principal function.” Taking these additional steps will be up to City Council.
As the rhetoric and political chaos surrounding CodeNEXT take on summer’s triple digit temperatures, it’s important to create some cool, calm, space for acknowledging the important improvements that have been made to the draft code as it relates to the city’s creative sectors.
And while the CodeNEXT road has been invariably rocky, the creative community is supportive of the new arts and music land uses and we believe that these changes can significantly help to preserve and promote our city’s cultural assets.
Thanks to the steadfast, collaborative volunteer work from community members, business owners, and members of the Arts and Music Commissions, Austin’s arts and music communities are indeed being recognized in CodeNEXT for the significant value we add to the city’s neighborhoods and economy.
And, as a bonus, we are growing more unified and organized in the process.
# # #