East Austin’s Black community is fighting for a cultural arts center

History displaced the cultural arts traditions of East Austin, long the home of the city’s Black community. Now, its champions — Black artists, creatives and community leaders — are working to restore that soul.

Untangling that displacement is complex. Sixteen years after the city began studying why African Americans in Austin experienced a different standard of living than other residents, local leaders have undertaken a historic reckoning on decades of discriminatory city policies.

In March, the Austin City Council unanimously voted to formally apologize for the city’s involvement in segregation and systemic racism, including the reinforcement of a 1928 plan that designated a “negro district” in East Austin. The council also created a Black Embassy to support business owners. 

More:Ballet Afrique finds a new home in East Austin amid a push to nurture Black arts

Harold McMillan, owner of East Austin music venue Kenny Dorham's Backyard, hopes a cultural arts center on his block could create a “right of return” for Black artists who have been priced out of the section of central East Austin that was once a vibrant community center for Black Austinites.

In 2019, the city began an extensive, equity-focused review of the way cultural arts grants are awarded. The process, paused in 2020 because of the pandemic, is ongoing.

In June 2021, the council unanimously approved a long-promised expansion plan for the Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center in East Austin.

And in July, the Live Music Fund Event Program was announced, prioritizing grant opportunities for historically underserved communities.

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