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Live Music Task Force subcommittees begin work

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Four subcommittees of the Live Music Task Force, on a timeline to present recommendations for short- and long-term action to Council by October, have begun a series of meetings.


Last night was a basic meat-and-potatoes update on the task force’s subcommittee work, which has begun in the last month. The subcommittees are divided into four priority areas identified by Council: the possible creation of an entertainment district; building requirements to mitigate sound issues; the use of incentives to redevelop local venues; and current and potential programs to assist musicians.


Vincent Kitch, the city’s Cultural Arts Program manager, noted the goals of each subcommittee should be both feasible and realistic, with enough detail to give Council direction on what the idea is, who would be responsible for it and what it might cost. Some recommendations will be short term; others will be long term. The task force should outline its own values – possibly feasibility, impact on the broader music community and implementation costs – to prioritize the recommendations, Kitch said.


Bobby Garza, executive assistant for Council Member Mike Martinez, updated the group on the subcommittee discussion of the creation of an entertainment district. So far, the discussion has been general. City staff has been directed to provide the subcommittee with additional information about entertainment districts in various cities. The goal right now is to collect additional data and case studies, so the group can focus on concrete solutions, said Garza, who serves on the task force and is a member of the music group Maneja Beto.


Commissioner Saundra Kirk spoke on behalf of the subcommittee studying the mitigation of sound from music venues. So far, the subcommittee has reviewed the existing reports out of the Planning Commission on noise solutions. The group is still grappling with an idea of what kind of priorities and philosophy might govern a final solution.


In the meantime, the subcommittee has asked for additional technical assistance from a sound engineer and possibly someone who deals in acoustics, as well as a staff member who works in building standards. Kirk said the subcommittee would meet on those Monday nights the full committee is not meeting, with the intention of at least one open meeting for stakeholders and a work session to review a possible draft recommendation.


Steve Werthheimer and James Moody updated the group on the work of the venue subcommittee. So far, the committee’s work has been general, Wertheimer said. Moody said the subcommittee was exploring the concept of incentives for live concert venues, as well as recommendations for a “green” music scene.


The task force is keenly aware of the gray area behind the term “live venue,” said chair Paul Oveisi. Incentives could drive all types of venues – restaurant, bar and even supermarket – to designate them live venues. The subcommittee wants to make the definition as appropriate as possible, possibly defining a live venue to the percentage of evening hours set aside for live music performances.


“What I see as possibly happening is everybody wanting to become a live music venue, whether it’s a shoe store or a grocery store or a restaurant,” Wertheimer said, agreeing with Oveisi. “We need a good definition.”


Rose Reyes updated the group on the work of the musician assistance subcommittee. The subcommittee, which has met twice, already has distributed “a non-scientific survey for feedback.” In other words, subcommittee members have distributed a survey to their own circle of friends, asking them to prioritize the subcommittee’s focus.


Priorities mentioned by musicians included legal advice, business loans, additional parking and help with grant writing and international travel. Musicians also want additional access to management, booking agents and record companies, possibly through an online clearinghouse that could be hosted by the city or the Austin Music Foundation.


Reyes said the subcommittee would like to distribute a more formal survey, possibly through the city website. The Austin Music Foundation also is open to a partnership with the city to host the clearinghouse, Reyes said. Reyes said the goal would be to outline and discuss various options for the city and for private entities.


Oveisi wants to see an estimated 10 bullet points from each subcommittee in July, followed by specifics in August and a vote in September. The recommendations go to Council in October. Oveisi said recommendations should range in difficulty, from “low-hanging fruit” to “middle of the road” to “a reach” for the city. All three categories should be included in recommendations, Oveisi said.

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