Photo by Julia Reihs/KUT
Thursday, September 17, 2020 by Andrew Weber

‘We deserve to be saved’: Austin music venues rally for city-backed relief fund

Austin’s music community rallied at City Hall Wednesday to support a measure to bolster the ecosystem around live music in the face of the pandemic.

The rally included everyone in that ecosystem, from the folks who help keep the scene alive like bartenders, talent buyers, engineers and stage hands, to club owners and artists who’ve been sidelined since venues shut down in March.

The City Council resolution up for a vote Thursday – Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors, or SAVES – would direct the city manager to look into providing financial relief for venues, while also seeking state and federal aid. The resolution would identify city money to help venues and lay the groundwork for a system to dole it out. City staff would then come back to Council with options no later than Sept. 29.

Council members have suggested creating a city-backed development corporation to pass out relief funds, which could come from sales tax revenue surpluses and fees on street use for construction projects, among other options.

Rally organizer Jeannette Gregor argued any money that comes out of a resolution should be dedicated to those who work in the industry. Credit Julia Reihs/KUT

Jeannette Gregor, who was furloughed from Mohawk and is currently working at Ritual Events, helped organize the rally. If a resolution is passed, she hopes whatever money comes out of it is dedicated solely to members of the industry who are struggling because they’ve been out of work.

“We are Austin. We are the community,” she said. “We are live music and we deserve to be saved! (We want) dedicated funding for Austin music venues.”

The vote comes as Council members consider the future of the $1.2 billion Austin Convention Center expansion project, which would be funded partly through tax revenue from hotel stays.

Native Austinite and musician Lauryn Gould said if Council votes to set money aside for the expansion, it would take “ample funds” off the table for struggling venues. She argued that money wouldn’t be in city coffers if not for live music.

“So in the same agenda, Council is proposing leaving no stone unturned and looking for funding sources for our industry, which is in crisis,” she said, “while also proposing a large amount of funds to be set aside for a superfluous, hypothetical convention center expansion.”

Musician Lauryn Gould said the city wouldn’t have money in its coffers to expand the convention center if not for live music. Credit Julia Reihs/KUT

Last year, City Council voted to set aside roughly $3 million a year to support venues from hotel tax revenue, and District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen has suggested increasing that share to $10 million because of the pandemic.

A study out earlier this summer found as many as 90 percent of venues in Austin could close because of the coronavirus; rally organizers said roughly 40 bars and venues already have closed. While there is a bipartisan effort in Congress to provide federal funding to support the industry, legislation has stalled in both the House and the Senate.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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