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Music Commission’s oversight could further delay emergency funds for musicians

Thursday, September 16, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

The Music Commission has asked city staff for more input and involvement in how a pair of financial assistance programs for Austin musicians will be carried out, with an emergency aid fund tied to Covid-19 possibly delayed three weeks as a result.

The commission heard presentations Monday on two programs: the Live Music Fund Event Program that’s funded with $2.3 million local Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue, and the third iteration of the Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund, which uses federal dollars to provide up to $2,000 grants to musicians impacted by the pandemic.

While commissioners were largely on board with the criteria and structure of the Covid relief program, they had repeated questions about how the event fund will be administered, including the scoring considerations for promoting equity in the recipient pool.

The city purchasing office has pushed for having the same third-party organization handle both programs. Any delay in finalizing the event program or selecting the third-party group would also delay the Covid grants to cash-strapped musicians.

The commission ultimately voted to form a working group that will review and make recommendations on the request for proposals for the third-party administrator and also look at having separate groups administer the two programs and evaluate the application questions for event fund entrants. The working group will report back at the next commission meeting in early October, at which point staffers will have final instructions on how to move forward.

Commissioner Lauryn Gould noted that the purchasing department is not necessarily in touch with the needs of the music community. “One of the problems we had in the past with a third-party administrator that was used in administering grants was they had no idea what this community is,” she said.

“I’m concerned that if the decision is left with somebody who has no connection to the people who are going to be affected by these programs … it’s worrisome to me and that’s why I’m worried about these two things being combined.”

Staff members defended the work of the Better Business Bureau, which recently administered music programs, while interim Economic Development Department Director Sylnovia Holt-Rabb said the new event program will involve much learning and adjusting.

“I would say this is a pilot year, so we’re going to learn a lot as we go through it. It’s the same constituents as we’ve had on various other (music) programs and we work with the law and purchasing departments on how to streamline the process. We feel pretty confident about it.”

Commissioner Graham Reynolds said the oversight desired by other commissioners was undermining the work of the Music and Entertainment Division and EDD as a whole, while also possibly delaying payments made to emergency fund recipients into January.

“It is our job to advise and guide the represented, voted side of the city government, but then also to let staff do their job and have some degree of trust in what they do,” he pointed out.

“This disaster relief fund, pushing that money going out potentially past the holidays ceases to fulfill its mission. And the live music fund is going to be flawed somehow in unpredictable ways no matter how many angles we look at. The sooner we get it on its feet, the sooner we’ll be able to make the best use of those funds.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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