Austin theater gets $4.5 million for most permanent home in decades
A dream years in the making is now a step closer to reality for an Austin community theater, which rounded out 2023 with a funding infusion for its new arts center. Austin Playhouse has been bringing unique and local theatrical performances to Austin for more than 20 years, and now it’s embarking on its most ambitious production yet.
In December, the Austin City Council unanimously greenlit a $4.5 million investment for the Austin Playhouse Arts Center project.
The Austin Playhouse exterior looks industrial, with some warmer elements visible inside.Rendering courtesy of Forge Craft Architecture & Design
The financial boost, approved following a recommendation from the Austin Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), is part of the 2018 Creative Spaces Bonds and propels Austin Playhouse into the final phase of the building campaign for its permanent home.
The new facility will house two theaters, rehearsal and classroom spaces, and a welcoming lobby continuing to serve the theater’s vision of inclusivity and affordability for artists and the community. Once completed, the multi-purpose space will be open to the public. The playhouse hopes it will serve as a cultural hub for the city of Austin.
The spacious lobby provides an area to hang out when the show isn't going on.Rendering courtesy of Forge Craft Architecture & Design
"We're intent on raising the profile of Austin’s arts community with our decades-long history of supporting emerging arts organizations through subsidized rent, mentorships, and collaborations," said Austin Playhouse producing artistic director Lara Toner Haddock in a press release. "Having flexible and affordable spaces throughout the city is essential to the sustainability of Austin's cultural ecosystem."
Austin Playhouse opened its doors in 2000, and has navigated various venues over its 24 seasons — from a converted warehouse at Penn Field, to a renovated space in the Highland Mall, to its current location in the University of Baptist Church’s education building — emphasizing the need for a permanent space.
To better serve the art community in the city, Austin Playhouse embarked on a journey to find out what needs the company could fulfill with its new space, by funding a nonprofit arts market survey as well as holding a series of town hall meetings among art organizations. The findings helped shape and inspire what is now in the current concept and design.
A curved seating arrangement around the stage provides unique vantage points and perhaps a more immersive show.Rendering courtesy of Forge Craft Architecture & Design
In 2019 the company purchased a 2.8-acre tract of land, setting the stage for the upcoming 25,000-square-foot arts center designed by Austin’s Forge Craft Architecture. Despite pandemic-related delays (the project was set to begin construction in 2020) and rising construction costs, Austin Playhouse has held onto its vision by maintaining necessary permits and continuing fundraising efforts.
This new investment from the Austin City Council is a significant leap towards realizing the long-held dream, and it was partially possible by the recommendation of the Austin Economic Development Corporation (AEDC).
"Austin Playhouse applied to the AEDC Cultural Trust with their vision," said CEO of Austin Economic Development Corporation Theresa Alvarez in a press release. "The Cultural Trust evaluation process considered many factors including the Playhouse’s site control, work accomplished advancing their vision, their ability to leverage a public investment with additional resources, and their commitment to affordability."
This investment aligns with AEDC’s broader efforts to enrich Austin’s performing arts sector through its Cultural Trust for Creative Spaces project.
In December 2022, it helped the Austin City Council allocate $2 million for a flexible space in the Permitting & Development Center, operated by theater collective Rude Mechs and youth writing organization Austin Bat Cave. Additionally, $400,000 was designated for the Millennium Youth Center to help with its theater space renovations. In July of this year, AEDC revealed a $1.6 million “Iconic Venue” investment in Hole in the Wall on Guadalupe Street.
As Austin Playhouse embarks on this transformative phase, it stands as a testament to Austin's commitment to nurturing and sustaining its vibrant cultural legacy. The current shows at Austin Playhouse include Murder on the Links inspired by Agatha Christie’s work; the winter edition of its year-long production, Playhouse Cabaret; and folk-inspired musical The Spitfire Grill.