Austin looks to artists for help with tackling city problems

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Austin is hoping the creativity of artists can help it tackle a variety of city issues, including flooding and community outreach.

City officials are set to begin an artist-in-residence program to embed an artist in various city departments, the Austin American-Statesman ( ) reported.

Officials say that unlike similar artist-in-residence programs, this one is focused not on creating works of art but on problem-solving.

“The idea is to introduce to the department the eye of an artist, because they think outside of the box,” said Kathleen Stimpert, a cultural arts division spokeswoman.

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The idea was the brainchild of city Cultural Arts Manager Meghan Wells, who said she’d been thinking about it for a long time.

“We want to retain the artist community, and this was a way to boost them and pay for their time and also get something beneficial out of it with a new perspective,” she said.

The first year will look for a visual artist. Wells said she hopes to expand it in future years to include more departments and types of artists that could include musicians, actors and others.

The artist will be required to put in at least 250 hours between March and November. The job comes with a salary of $8,750, plus $5,000 in expenses.

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But departing Austin Councilman Don Zimmerman calls the proposal “another crazy idea to waste taxpayer money when we have an affordability crisis.”

At least two other cities have similar programs in place. In 2015, Los Angeles announced it would begin placing artists to work on city initiatives, beginning with transportation safety. Boston is in its second year of an effort that selected artists to work with its police, recycling, neighborhood and parks staff.