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Music Commission narrows omnibus priorities

Monday, May 2, 2016 by Courtney Griffin

Austin’s Music Commission managed to prioritize some of the “kitchen sink” initiatives put forward by the Austin Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus Resolution during its Monday night meeting. But while stakeholders shared multiple recommendations for potential music industry best practices, most commissioners stated that a potential code change was their top priority.

On March 3, City Council adopted the omnibus resolution, skyrocketing Austin’s creative arts scene to the top of city staff’s to-do list. According to the resolution, City Manager Marc Ott has 90 days to craft a plan intended to address a host of issues concerning the city’s creative sector. Those issues include affordability for creatives, venue preservation and venue permitting processes. The plan also contemplates the creation of a safety net — anything from business advice to health care — for local musicians and artists. As a result, the city’s Arts and Music Commission was required to provide recommendations to Council within an even smaller time frame.

Chair Gavin Garcia noted, however, that the city, the industry, and more than 130 nonprofits have been seeking ways to address these issues for years. Staff members of the city’s Music & Entertainment Division presented to the commission their recommendations regarding the resolution’s music-related goals specifically.

Out of the seven pages of staff recommendations put forward, commissioners agreed that a revision in Austin’s upcoming land and development code known as the “Agent of Change” was one of the more important initiatives. Addressing changes to a venue’s circumstances — such as moving to a new location, or housing being built nearby — the initiative would tweak city code to make whoever is responsible for the change responsible for managing its civil and community impact as well.

If implemented, for example, the Agent of Change principle could require that a music venue relocating to a residential neighborhood pay for alterations such as soundproofing, while a developer who builds housing near an existing venue would be responsible for the soundproofing.

Staff recommended that the Agent of Change principle be included in CodeNEXT as well as the permitting and development review processes.

Commissioner Graham Reynolds also noted that industry development is newly essential to the city.

“A lot of people move to Austin to play music as an alternative to other cities with a well-developed music industry,” he said, citing New York City or Los Angeles as examples. “But that was because it was gigantically affordable with an active music scene.”

Commissioners said that tourism initiatives and promoting or “exporting” artists to other cities was also a necessary endeavor that, while expensive, is an investment with a large return margin.

Reynolds also said it was imperative for Austin to preserve smaller venues that provide critical space for artists to grow and develop, regardless of some of their more “divey” aspects, such as dirty bathrooms.

“We talk a lot here how hard it is to keep a music venue open, but to keep a nonprofit performing arts venue open, the margins are extraordinarily challenging,” he said, noting that some venues’ operating costs have increased 12-fold compared to a few years ago.

In their resolution, commissioners recommended more funding and staff for the city’s Music & Entertainment Division as well as taking that division out of the permitting process, arguing that staff often spends a significant amount of time responding to noise violations.

Commissioners also pointed out the need for omnibus initiatives to serve Austinites and not just tourists. They also prioritized venue preservation outside of downtown, industry hub development and music genre development and diversity, and stated that more effort should be made to build the new millennial audience through online marketing and outreach.

Commissioners voted unanimously to send their recommendations to the city’s Economic Opportunity Committee, which will meet on May 9 to hammer out further details before presenting a fully developed plan to Council in June.

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Photo by Venturist from London, United Kingdom (giant guitarUploaded by clusternote) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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