Austin City Limits Music Festival 2014: Interview with Parks Foundation’s Colin Wallis

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Michelle and Colin Wallis snapped at Food for Thought benefiting Communities in Schools in 2013 by Robert Godwin.

What percentage of the visitors to Zilker Park for the Austin City Limits Music Festival know that the two-weekend bash is co-produced by the Austin Parks Foundation?

And how many of those know what the foundation does? Or how it has distributed the more than $10 million to parks projects all over the city from a percent of ticket sales that fest co-producers C3 have funneled its way?

We spoke with foundation president Colin Wallis under the shade of a tent Saturday afternoon. A few yards away, the Tune-Yards wailed at the RetailMeNot stage.

“Quiet and shade,” Wallis quips. “Two things much in demand this weekend.”

Tall, courtly, bearing a gentle smile, Wallis spoke of checking out Pearl Jam and Interpol, plus bands he’d never heard of before today.

Michelle and Colin Wallis snapped at Food for Thought benefiting Communities in Schools in 2013 by Robert Godwin.

Michelle and Colin Wallis snapped at Food for Thought benefiting Communities in Schools in 2013 by Robert Godwin.

“It’s going really great,” he says. “With this weather, after what we’ve had in the past couple of years, it’s hard not to be great.”

Two years ago, Wallis came to the Parks Foundation from anti-cancer Livestrong foundation, where, for eight years, he served as a big-dollar national fundraiser. How has the Travis Heights resident adjusted?

“Well, I don’t have to get on an airplane any more,” he says. “And I get to see the immediate benefits of what we do right here.”

Although he’s sad to see Livestrong leader Doug Ulman go, Wallis praised the group’s new partnership with the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas.

“It’s going to be phenomenal for them both,” he says. “They are not going to give up on it. I hope the partnership deepens.”

As for C3 and its partnership with the Parks Foundation, Wallis is quick to point out that tending the Great Lawn at Zilker is far from the only benefit.

“That $10 million went to, not just Zilker, but more than 100 parks in our community,” Wallis says. “All of them benefit.”

A percentage of ACL Fest ticket sales go into a fund that flows into parks grants of $500 to $50,0000.

“The grant requests are community-driven,” Wallis says. “One group might want to mulch their trees, or we’ll pay for a playscape in Dove Springs, or part of the new boardwalk.”

How do neighborhood groups or parks advocates on the ground apply?

“We are doing our best to get the news out,” he says. (Apply by contacting the foundation at grants@austinparks.org.)

It helps to advertise the program to have the Great Lawn at Zilker, once raggedly like so many Austin parks, now green year-round.

Yes, but what of the three months out of the year when that lawn is not open for general activities? Wallis emphasizes that ACL takes up only three-and-a-half weeks. The Trail of Lights has a much longer load-in and tear-down. Parts of the park are still open while production work is active.

We talked about the two dozen or so hidden gems in the rest of Zilker Park, several of them, such as Lookout Point, in poor condition. He said that the foundation is already helping with one such project in hidden Zilker, the Sunshine Camp that the 101-year-old Young Men’s Business League runs for children each summer.

“What people don’t realize is that our parks are all woefully underfunded,” he says. “We are trying to solve a $100 million problem with a few millions.”
He admits that neighborhoods and parks — 330 in Austin — that have earned strong community support are the first to get the bucks. Wallis enumerated some of the conservancies that have partnered with the foundation and liked the idea of a Zilker Park Conservancy to help with the work beyond the Great Lawn and Barton Springs Pool.
“We are a five-person organization,” he says. “And we try to leverage as much as we can out of our dollars.”

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