Monday, July 27, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Music Commission eyes police dollars instead of hotel tax to support Black music fund

Included in the Music Commission’s request to create a Black Live Music Fund may be a suggestion that the city look for money outside of the Hotel Occupancy Tax – including funds intended for law enforcement – to rebuild the local music industry.

At last week’s meeting, commissioners said the hotel tax is forecast to be unstable and low on funds for the next few years because of the decline in tourism caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. That means an expected resolution asking City Council to approve $750,000 directed toward Black music could advocate other sources of funding.

Currently a working group is discussing how to deploy the recently created Live Music Fund, which was expected to have $3.5 million available in its first year but will have closer to $2 million because of a drastic reduction in hotel tax receipts.

Commissioner Graham Reynolds said City Council will be asked to approve a request that spells out the objectives and steps for improving the circumstances of Black artists and professionals locally, and that city staff should be responsible for selecting the best way to pay for that plan.

“We have to be very careful about tying into the hotel tax that not only is depleted for the next however many years in a significant way but also required things to be tied to tourism,” he said. “I don’t know if we need to be the ones to specify where the money is coming from. I’d show the path forward to work toward equity and putting money directly toward Black music. We have to identify what is the harm that needs repairing but not the mechanism for where the money is coming from.”

With City Council in budget talks that are expected to result in a significant cut to Austin Police Department funding, Commissioner Oren Rosenthal said the commission should work to show a link between music and safety, which could create access to public safety dollars.

“One source of funding that is pretty stable and been considered untouchable is public safety money, and police funding in particular, which we know often works against African Americans and communities of color,” he said. “If we can find a way to show that music makes people safer, that’s a stable source of funding. I would love to see this committee find ways of showing it makes this a safer community for everybody by funding music.”

At the same meeting the commission continued talks with arts consultant Margie Reese, whose firm MJR Partners is working with the city on overall strategies for equity in arts funding. Reese’s responsibility with the Music Commission is to define the objective of the Black Live Music Fund so it can be sustainable and will be less susceptible to have its funding reallocated once it is in operation.

With the nation’s music industry expected to take much of the next year to recover from the pandemic, Commissioner Gavin Garcia said the next 18 months are critical for the city to determine how it wants to rebuild music business interests locally.

“If the Music Commission doesn’t create a mandate for equity I don’t know that any other entity in the private sector will do so. We have to lead this conversation that’s already gotten quiet,” he said. “It’s not that the forces in the industry are against us for equity as much as everyone is in a recovery zone in the industry. Everyone is in survival and recovery. What the Music Commission can do is construct what the rebirth of the music industry looks like in 2022, because we’re already hearing that 2021 will possibly be a dead year.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Music Commission: The Austin Music Commission guides city practices on music development issues, including the SxSW music festival.

Hotel Occupancy Tax: A tax on the rental of a room in a hotel or other rental properties (including apartments) that cost 6 percent of the cost of a room.

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