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Proposed live music grants could fund hundreds of concerts

Monday, July 19, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

The city is seeking feedback in the initial guidelines for the long-planned Live Music Fund, which would provide hundreds of grants of up to $10,000 for independent musicians and promoters to create new concerts and festivals throughout the city. Total proposed funding for the program stands at $2.5 million, with grant amounts ranging from $5,000-$10,000 each.

City staffers presented the suggested guidelines for the Live Music Fund Event Program at last week’s meeting of the Music Commission, explaining that the commission’s emphasis on equity and historically underserved communities will give priority in application scoring to racial minorities and those with gender- and disability-based considerations. Other prioritized groups will be independent promoters with a staff of three or fewer people, and professional musicians and bands based in Austin.

The initial guidelines designate that the awarded funds can be used for live and virtual events, special events and festivals based in specific City Council districts, and paid marketing plans that promote funded events as a tourist attraction to comply with the use of Hotel Occupancy Tax dollars being used to fund the program.

Commission members and the community can view the program guidelines online. Staff members will gather input for a report at next month’s commission meeting, at which point they will decide whether they can revise the guidelines for a final Council vote.

Council approved the creation of the Live Music Fund in fall 2019, for the first time specifically setting aside a portion of hotel tax revenues separate from money allocated more broadly to cultural arts. When hotel tax receipts plummeted in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the commission opted to take roughly a year to make equity and diversity a priority in how the fund is used.

“I’m impressed by these guidelines and the prioritization of not only equity but also of musicians because that’s a clear statement of support,” Chair Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone said. “We’ve pushed forward proposals to help with venues and talked about nonprofits, but prioritizing artists and promoters with ideas, particularly from underserved communities, is a great decision.”

Erica Shamaly, head of the Music and Entertainment Division, said the broad goal of funding live music events is creating more opportunities for new types of concerts and festivals around the city, with education on planning, promotion and digital marketing to help new promoters and musicians succeed.

“The hope is that by putting the grants in the hands of musicians they can go out into the community and start collaborating and curating new and interesting events,” she said.

“It could be at any of the plenty of venues we have here in Austin. It could be at a public park. It’s to give the funds that (musicians) have probably always dreamed of having, to be able to go and book that residency at that one venue or do a weekend festival in order to bring together all their friends or other local musicians to highlight a certain component of Austin.”

Recipients will receive the final portion of their money with the filing of an after-event report detailing their execution, marketing and other elements of the event that will be used to create future best practices.

Commissioner Oren Rosenthal said that final step is important to justify the program to skeptics.

“I don’t want to make it too bureaucratic, but the recipients of these grants, if we could ask them to tell the city what the benefit is, and I bet we could run through some kind of benefit analysis and say X number of jobs and X number of performances resulted from this,” he said. “Those are some of my thoughts about how we can justify this and let the taxpayers of Austin as well as visitors know what their money is going towards.”

Photo by Matt made available through a Creative Commons license.

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