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City reveals new music division manager

Tuesday, July 11, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

The city has selected the new head of the Music and Entertainment Division, roughly three months after the position opened following a cloud of controversy.

The announcement that Erica Shamaly, a longtime Austinite with close to two decades in local film and music industries, will take over the position as of July 24 came at Monday’s meeting of the Austin Music Commission. The position is contained within the Economic Development Department and was created to grow the local music industry, which has an estimated annual economic impact of $1.8 billion.

Shamaly was most recently the marketing director for both Austin City Limits Live and 3Ten music venues and was previously marketing director for Austin Psych Fest (now known as Levitation). She also spent nearly a decade as the co-founder and executive director of the Austin School of Film.

Shamaly was greeted by the commissioners with questions about how music can remain a viable career option for current students and children in Austin, and how the city can continue to attract young musicians and other creative talents as the cost of living continues to rise in a similar fashion to New York City and San Francisco.

She said in-progress efforts like the career and industry development pieces of the Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus will address some short-term issues, but added that local creatives need both more affordable living options and guidance to make more money from their art.

“Music has got to be a sustainable revenue source that artists can depend on,” she said. “We need to work across creative sectors and make things more exciting, working with arts, dance, theater and multimedia to create a galvanized community to build on the foundation that we’ve got. I want musicians to send their kids to college and not have to worry about (paying for) it.”

The viability of music in the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World has been an issue of some concern for much of the last decade, with 2015’s Austin Music Census finding that local musicians and live music venues are under threat of being pushed out of the city by development pressure.

Shamaly will oversee a staff of nine that works on local music programming, building music industry infrastructure and issues related to sound and relations with nearby development and neighbors.

Speaking about the business mindset musicians need to have in present-day Austin, Shamaly said a change in attitude about the value of music will help to bring more money into the creative economy.

“It’s so competitive to be here and everybody wants to be here so much that they’re willing to work for cheap, and we need to get rid of that mindset,” she said. “You’re an artist and you deserve to get paid. We need to work with them on being more realistic about the cost of living, what they need to do and how much they’ll need to earn to live here.”

The hiring comes after a roughly two-month job search that included no public input because Shamaly was seen as the obvious choice from the 51 national applicants, said Economic Development Director Kevin Johns. Last week the Austin Chronicle published the list of seven semifinalists for the job, some of which were expected to appear at Monday’s commission meeting for a meet-and-greet ahead of a hiring decision by Johns.

The position was vacated in April after Don Pitts, who oversaw the division’s creation in 2010, left amid charges he mishandled the discipline process for an employee who attempted to embezzle city funds.

One contentious issue that will greet Shamaly and Johns later this year is the return of the so-called “agent of change” policy that is intended to address tension between venues and nearby development.

That issue was on the verge of a City Council vote last month but was delayed over concerns from neighbors and venues that it didn’t provide proper legal cover for potentially offending parties. A working group organized by Mayor Steve Adler is currently crafting a new version of the policy, but there is no expected time frame for it to return for Council consideration.

Photo by John Flynn.

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