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Over the past few years, the city of Austin has had to come up with creative ways to make sure its creative and cultural scenes stay a part of the city’s lifestyle. One of the more ambitious efforts the city is putting into place comes from the Cultural Arts Division. Their current plan is to launch a cultural asset map by going into Austin’s 10 City Council districts, with help from Austin residents. The city of Austin is undertaking the project to understand what important places and resources exist to support the city’s culture and creativity.

Janet Siebert, the head of the mapping project, spoke to Austin.com about the project. We began our discussion with what the project hopes to accomplish throughout its run, as there have been many ideas and initiatives over the last several years to help Austin’s creative and cultural scenes thrive. She tells us that she has been a city employee for about 18 years with most of that time involved in cultural planning, in addition to various studies on the community and the economy.

Speaking about the needs of the community, Siebert tells us that two of the main things the city has been lacking are funding and space. “We weren’t that traditional 19th century manufacturing center and we didn’t have a lot of buildings where people could go and create. We’ve done a few studies about the demand for space and it was just off the charts with what was needed. And when you hear that you think, ‘okay, what really does exist here?’”

With the cultural asset maps, the city is hoping that both they and Austin’s residents can come together through a collaborative effort to make Austin become a lively and cultural city once again.

Elaborating on what the maps will look like and what the Arts Division wants to achieve with them, Siebert tells us, “As for the maps, we are expecting to see clusters of creativity and culture, as well as some gaps. So I think it’s a way to get information that we can integrate with not only city planning but planning that the community might want to do. So these maps will help us make good strategic decisions, and as we grow I think we need to be smart about the spaces for creatives, but also spaces for our citizens to go and be creative. Because we are a creative city, it’s not just the musicians, we also have people who think creatively, which can help us sustain these communities.”

Community events concerning the mapping have been scheduled and the Cultural Arts Division is encouraging Austinites to attend one of the ten meetings throughout August and September. During these meetings, attendees will get the chance to look at a GIS-based map (a geographic information system — designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of spatial or geographical data) of the district and identify current cultural assets and add additional location points where creativity has the potential to thrive.

The Cultural Arts Division is asking various community organizations to help with the maps and plans to take what they have found to the meetings “and then ask the community what they have been missing,” Seibert says. “After that, we will have a conversation about what a cultural asset is, and we are hoping to come up with new ways of thinking about these treasured places and events and what is important to the community and what makes them comfortable when being creative. We are only going into a Council District once, and in these meetings we will talk about what creativity means to us personally, and where do we find ourselves to be most comfortable doing this practice, and where do we like to get together with community members to feel more authentic.”

“Then after asking those two questions we will understand better what a cultural asset is. We will have a Council District map on a table with 8 to 12 people around it where we will collect that information,” Siebert concluded.

Seibert explains a bit more about what sets this project apart from other revival ideas, saying that “it’s definitely the collaboration and when you get the community together, that’s when you have sparks fly and ideas bumping up against each other and why the community meeting aspect is very important to us. We wanted to make sure that we provided opportunities for people to come together and meet each other and do something. Also, I think building the awareness of what creative and cultural assets are and their value is also important, and how can we make strategic decisions with this information, since information is power. It’s all about playing to our strengths.”

You can find the dates for all 10 of the community meetings below. If you cannot make it to a meeting, you can request a free kit to share with your friends and colleagues, which allows you to plot your own cultural asset mapping exercise. A limited number of these kits will be available beginning in late August.

Upcoming District Community Meetings:

Saturday, August 20, 2016 (District 5)
11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Manchaca Road Branch Library
5500 Manchaca Road, Austin 78745

Saturday, August 27, 2016 (District 3)
11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Montopolis Rec Center
1200 Montopolis Dr., Austin 78741

Monday, August 29, 2016 (District 8)
6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Hampton Branch Library
5125 Convict Hill Road, Austin 78749

Saturday, September 10, 2016 (District 7)
10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Northwest Rec Center
2913 Northland Drive, Austin 78757

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 (District 4)
6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Grant A.M.E. Church
1701 Kramer Lane, Austin 78758

Thursday, September 15, 2016 (District 2)
6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Dove Springs Rec Center
5801 Ainez Dr., Austin 78744

Saturday, September 17, 2016 (District 10)
10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Old Quarry Branch Library
7051 Village Center Drive, Austin 78731
Tuesday, September 20, 2016 (District 6)

6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Spicewood Springs Library
8637 Spicewood Springs Road, Austin 78759

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 (District 1)
6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Carver Branch Library
1161 Angelina St., Austin 78702

Saturday, September 24, 2016 (District 9)
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Cultural Arts Division Offices / Training Room
201 E. 2nd Street, Austin 78701


Featured photo: Cultural Arts Division

Listen Here Reviews

If you would like to read more of Lauren Gribble’s features, you can head to her website Listen Here Reviews.

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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