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Austin’s music and arts community to receive windfall from American Rescue Plan

Thursday, May 27, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

The American Rescue Plan spells huge relief for Austin’s music and arts scene. In a resolution passed last Thursday, City Council proposed spending $25 million over a two-year period to revive the city’s creative industry, mostly using money from Austin’s $188.4 million cut of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package. 

While Austin’s creative sector has received some help since the beginning of the pandemic from relief programs funded by the CARES Act, those in the industry say they’re still hurting. 

“Musicians have gone without stable earned income for 14 months now, and gigs are not back yet,” singer/songwriter Sonya Jevette said. “We need this money to sustain our industry until gigs are back at 100 percent.”

According to a Brookings Institute report from last year, 32 percent of those in Austin’s creative sector lost their jobs because of the pandemic. The pandemic has also upended the main way the city supports the arts – revenue from the Hotel Occupancy Tax. Austin has lost $75 million in HOT revenue so far in the pandemic, meaning the city can’t fulfill its HOT-funded cultural arts contracts. 

The resolution proposes $15 million in grants over two years (up to $7.5 million per year) for artists and arts organizations and $10 million in grants over two years (up to $5 million per year) for musicians and music businesses. The funds are not yet available because the resolution simply directs staffers to come back with a spending plan.

Even though a big chunk of the money will come from ARPA, it will also come from elsewhere – the city’s General Fund, for example, or other local, state or federal sources. 

At Council’s work session last Tuesday, city staffers presented their requested ARPA funding allocation, which included $7.8 million over two years toward the Cultural Arts Fund and $2.2 million over two years for the Live Music Fund. If Council approves those amounts, staffers would still have to find $15 million from non-ARPA sources to meet the resolution’s goals.

Once Council decides how to use the ARPA money at either its June 3 or June 10 meeting, “It’s all about getting that money out the door,” Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said. Much of this immediate relief money would go to existing pandemic-era relief programs so the city doesn’t waste time creating new programs. Then, during the budget process later in the summer, city staffers would present how to spend money they find from other sources.

Several music industry professionals called on a third party to administer the funds. “Let’s please include parameters to ensure that the $10 million goes directly to our music community and that a qualified third party administer the process,” said Pat Buchta, executive director of Austin Texas Musicians, a nonprofit. 

More details, including an online portal where people can apply for relief, will be available in the coming weeks.

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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