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State music museum appears headed to Austin

Monday, May 1, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

The Texas House of Representatives appears to be the last legislative hurdle for a bill that would lead to the creation of a museum in downtown Austin dedicated to Texas music. The museum would be a multi-floor anchor of sorts to a $550 million Capitol complex master plan that will see two new office buildings constructed near the southern edge of the University of Texas by 2020.

Backers want the museum, which doesn’t have a name but is being referred to colloquially as the Texas Music Museum, to be on par with Seattle’s $100 million Experience Music Project or Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which received a $100 million expansion in 2014.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kirk Watson, passed the Senate last week and has received support from Gov. Greg Abbott in anticipation of its passage. The building containing the proposed museum would be located next to the Bullock Texas State History Museum and across from the Blanton Museum of Art.

The effort has some detractors, though, including lawmakers in other major Texas cities who had hoped to land the museum that has been discussed in legislative sessions for years. Other opponents include operators of smaller private and nonprofit museums focused on Texas music in other parts of the state.

It is also possible that the eventual museum would collaborate with already established music museums in some way. Such an arrangement is seen as a positive by Clay Shorkey, president of the board of directors for the Texas Music Museum located in a few thousand square feet of office space on East 11th Street in Austin.

Shorkey said that nonprofit operates on a yearly budget of about $45,000 generated mostly from contributions from board members.

“I’ve been down there and testified about the museum. … We started this 34 years ago because there were so many people making important contributions to the music culture who weren’t being archived,” Shorkey said. “I’m excited to possibly see a big, beautiful museum that includes lots of the oral histories, documents and videos that we’ve worked so hard to preserve.”

State officials have touted the museum as having no direct cost to taxpayers, because a foundation would be created to fundraise its startup costs, and the museum would pay rent to the state for the space it uses in the new buildings.

There is the matter of raising tens of millions of dollars to pay for the museum’s creation, with wealthy entrepreneurs as the likely targets.

Michael Corcoran, a longtime music writer for the Austin American-Statesman and author of the forthcoming book All Over The Map: True Heroes Of Texas Music, said the prestige of being associated with a museum showcasing the likes of Buddy Holly, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Selena will make the fundraising process fairly quick.

“I guess they must think the money is out there or else they wouldn’t be building it, and really it’ll only take the right three people because if you name a wing after someone who donates then they’ll get the money,” he said. “There are so many innovators throughout music who have come from Texas, and when you think about all the artifacts that are out there from people like Buddy Holly and Bob Wills, it’ll almost have too much stuff to choose from.”

Freddy Fletcher, a partner in prominent Austin music businesses such as ACL Live at the Moody Theater and Arlyn Studios, said Austin is behind other music-focused cities in not offering a large music museum of some kind for tourists and locals to enjoy.

“A museum is something every major music city has, with something that’s of a high quality and caliber to reflect their musical history,” he said. “You go to the country music hall of fame in Nashville and a large percentage of those performers in there are Texans.”

Fletcher, who is also the nephew of sometime Austinite and country music legend Willie Nelson, said the argument presented by leaders in Dallas and Houston for locating the museum in those cities doesn’t hold up when looked at in terms of likely visitor numbers and reputation.

“Of course everyone takes pride in their cities, but with Houston and Dallas, music does not naturally come to mind in the same way it does with Austin,” he said. “If you built (the museum) in either of those other places it wouldn’t get near the traffic than if you put it in a music town in the middle of Texas.”

Photo by Mike Prosser (colmmcsky) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/colmmcsky/7483835798/) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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