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Music Commission eyes funding apart from hotel tax among 2021 priorities

Tuesday, January 12, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

The Music Commission wants to decrease the role that Hotel Occupancy Tax will play in funding arts and music programs in the coming years, possibly relying more on the city’s General Fund or other revenue sources while the local hospitality industry recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Restructuring the funding for the Live Music Fund and other music initiatives was one of the items discussed last week when the commission members gathered to decide their priorities for 2021.

No action was taken on the topic and it will be revisited next month, with other possible areas of focus including finding ways to improve digital engagement with the public, finding more ways to use city land for arts and living space, scaling up with the city’s Economic Development Corporation, addressing long-standing equity concerns in the music economy, and finally resolving the “agent of change” issue between creative spaces and commercial development.

In 2019, music stakeholders succeeded in securing a portion of the hotel tax specifically to support music initiatives, rather than having to compete for funding from the Cultural Arts pool provided to the Economic Development Department. The onset of the pandemic, however, has crippled the city’s hospitality industry and will dramatically reduce the funds available for all programs tied to arts, music and tourism promotion funded by the hotel tax.

Commissioner Graham Reynolds said that EDD and the commission need funding that is predictable years ahead to serve a growing list of needs and expectations from the music ecosystem.

“We’re going to need real resources, and financial resources in particular,” he said. “At the same time the entire country is challenged for financial resources – how do we solve that puzzle? To me, that’s the giant challenge and an overarching concern.”

Commissioner Gavin Garcia echoed Reynolds’ sentiments, and said too much of the local music economy is tied to the success of music festivals like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits, which for decades have brought in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year but have an uncertain future because of the pandemic.

“We are in recovery mode, as are the major capitals of the world, and other cities and municipalities have received more funding than we have in Austin. Ours is predicated, or it has been, on ACL and South by Southwest and things like that,” he said. “We’re in a moment where we could end this codependency on these two festivals for income for the community. I don’t think anyone’s going to focus on that and I can see the Music Commission creating a focal point for the recovery of the (music) industry.”

Chair Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone said he’d like to see each meeting include updates on needs and happenings from individual City Council districts when warranted. He also asked city staffers for information on how to increase public engagement online so it’s easier to disseminate news about programs and issues of concern for musicians and stakeholders.

“Our presence online is really a website that lacks a lot of personality, and the city websites” are also “humdrum, mundane,” Mahone said. “I would like to see what we can do in terms of public-facing things to make people more interested in voicing their concerns and coming to these meetings and sharing their thoughts and information with us.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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