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Music Commission pushes Council to recommit to $10M aid plan for venues

Thursday, August 5, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

The Music Commission has asked the city to hold to a May decision to provide another $10 million in federal assistance to Austin music venues, in response to recent recommendations by staff to reduce the next aid package to $4 million.

At Monday’s meeting, the commission unanimously approved the resolution, referencing Council Member Vanessa Fuentes’ resolution calling on the city manager to find a way to provide $5 million a year for two years to help preserve music venues that were forced to close for much of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

That assistance would be taken from the city’s portion of American Rescue Plan funds, which are still being allocated, though a large portion of the money is scheduled to be used for programs to house and assist the city’s homeless population.

Commission members said City Council should direct staff to meet the directive from the May resolution, since many of the city’s musicians and music venues are already economically threatened by the rising cost of living.

“We should just reiterate that this is what you said you were going to do. Unless you come up with some reasons why it’s been reduced, which does anyone have one? This is what you said you were going to come to the table with, and this is what we expect,” Chair Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone said.

The next round of assistance for music venues would likely be used as a follow-up to the Live Music Preservation Fund, which was approved in December and provided $5 million in two rounds of grants to venues that had fallen behind on rent and other fixed costs during the pandemic.

Commissioner Oren Rosenthal said his fellow members and other music advocates need to tell Council members that the city’s popularity as a tourist and business location comes in large part from its reputation as a music and creative hotbed. Losing music venues and musicians, he said, could pose a risk to a sector estimated to generate $2 billion a year in economic activity.

“The Council and mayor know that Austin voters will vote in favor of music and punish politicians that starve music,” he said. “What we can do in the meantime is perhaps mention the economic impact of music to Austin and that musicians and people who don’t have a lot of assets are struggling while at the same time property values are skyrocketing.”

Representatives from the activist group Music Moves Austin were scheduled to have meetings with Council members this week to lobby for the full $10 million they supported in May.

Rebecca Reynolds, president of Austin’s chapter of the Music Venue Alliance, said some Council members may think local venues won’t need as much help from the city because of the grants slowly being allocated by a multibillion-dollar Small Business Administration program to help music venues and promoters.

Reynolds said so far only 10 of the more than four dozen venues in her group have received money from the SBA, with many owners worried they will be passed over for help.

“The city and the county, as they were making plans for the American Rescue Plan budget, assumed that the venues were fine because of this SBA program, and that is not yet the case,” she said. “Council Member Fuentes’ resolution from May pledged $10 million and that has been drastically reduced. We need them to commit to $10 million because the (federal) program has not been the panacea that we have been expecting.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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