Austin has an international reputation as a lively, active city, defined by live music, outdoor recreation, street festivals and a young, educated citizenry. In fact, there are 104,000 college and university students living inside the Austin city limits. Will Wynn frequently says, “Cities that are more fun to live, work and play in, are going to do better economically.” And Wynn does his best to practice what he preaches – and have fun.
A life-long music fan – which is why he first moved to Austin as a 20-year-old – and a patron and supporter of numerous local arts and non-profit organizations, Will Wynn stresses the need to nurture and support creativity and innovation in the local economy. Wynn believes that music, festivals, the arts, film and technology offer the synergy that has disproportionately created the enabling environment for Austin’s remarkable economic expansion and has grown Austin’s international reputation as a ‘creative city’. Mayor Wynn worked to ensure that this recognition was embedded in formal public policy.
In 2002, in the wake of a significant economic downturn, then City Councilmember, Will Wynn chaired Austin’s Taskforce on the Economy. One of its three main programs, focused on growing and supporting the creative class, became known as the Keep Austin Weird initiative.
The city of Austin expanded its association with, and invested real resources in, dozens of festivals and special events. The acclaimed Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL Fest) was born. In association with Wynn’s fitness initiatives, more walking, running, cycling and triathlon events were allowed in public spaces. Filming was not only made easier (in city rights-of-ways and facilities), but also local film incentives were formalized by the City Council.
Austin is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” and Wynn paid special attention to this critical sector of Austin’s creative class. The city formalized a relationship with the internationally-acclaimed, 10-day South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film and multimedia event. Last year, the music component of SXSW alone showcased more than 3,000 bands, including over 750 international bands.
Austin is home to more than 8,000 working musicians, most of them young, low-income and uninsured. Mr. Wynn is very proud of his founding support of and association with the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) which has now delivered primary medical, dental and mental health services to more than 2,700 Austin musicians.
The urban revitalization that occurred in Austin during Will Wynn’s tenure as mayor was truly transformational. Wynn is quick to point out that it wasn’t at the expense of the 100+ live music venues clustered in downtown. In fact, there are measurably more music venues downtown today than there were in 2000.
Austin is home to professional ballet, symphony and opera. There has been a virtual construction frenzy of new and newly renovated cultural venues during this time.
Also, Austin has had an impressive private technology sector for decades. It gained substantial complement from the decisions to locate both MCC and Sematech in Austin. The Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) was formed in 1989 as a non-profit division of the University of Texas. And with Mayor Wynn’s support and leadership, both the city and Austin Energy created and invested in the Austin Clean Energy Incubator (CEI) within the framework at the ATI.
Will Wynn believes that Austin is very well positioned to continue to gain economic advantage from locally-driven creativity and innovation, particularly with the convergence of music, film and gaming into a digital media sector and with clean energy advances.
Creative Cities: Mr. Wynn’s Insights
If your organization would like to hear Mr. Wynn speak on topics related to cultivating creativity and innovation, please submit a Speaking Inquiry.