Kenny Dorham's Backyard in Danger

By Chase Hoffberger, Fri., June 13, 2014, for the Austin Chronicle at


Harold McMillan - Photographed by by Jana Birchum


Minutes before midnight on deadline for this report, DiverseArts founder Harold McMillan wrote to tell us of the imminent dangers facing his part-time venue, Kenny Dorham's Backyard.

Named for the late jazz trumpeter who grew up in East Austin, KDB occupies a patch of grass directly east of the Victory Grill and operates – occasionally – via cultural programmings. McMillan's run the city-owned space on a shoestring budget for a decade now, obtaining year-long leases from the Urban Renewal Board every 12 months. On his most recent review, the city recommended his lease only be extended six months.

"They said the property needed to look better," allowed McMillan. "Needed to be more well-maintained."

A staff member at URB received a complaint from one of his neighbors, and McMillan's "absolutely inclined" to make improvements to Kenny Dorham's, but he can't foot the bill for improvements and isn't sure exactly how much it'll help. Despite support from the East End IBIZ District and a number of local neighborhood associations, including his own Robertson Hill Neighborhood Association, whose president Stan Strickland says, "Stands ready to provide the sweat equity to help beautify the lot and preserve [KDB's] tradition," McMillan suspects the property's in jeopardy because of urban developers hoping to cash in on undeveloped land.

Mark Rogers, of the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, told the Chronicle that McMillan and KDB are consummate neighbors who, "do a really good job of abiding by the rules" despite limited resources.

"He's a nonprofit who's winging it and doing it on donations," says Rodgers, who acknowledged it's always "been presumed and understood" that KDB would eventually get redeveloped. "Maybe the city should be taking some responsibility. They have a lot of resources."