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Adler wants Music Commission to be ‘more creative’ with $2.3M Live Music Fund

Monday, October 25, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

Mayor Steve Adler wants the new Live Music Fund that is supported by hotel tax revenues to produce a city-financed music venue, record label or some other business entity to train Austin music professionals in the coming years.

In an interview with Austin Monitor, Adler expanded on his comments from a recent City Council work session in which he said the first iteration of the $2.3 million fund looks too similar to other grant programs for local artists. As currently proposed, the fund will be used to award $5,000 and $10,000 grants to local musicians and professionals to create events and concerts for diverse audiences around the city.

When Council approved the creation of the fund in late 2019, it was done so with the intent of supporting the local music industry, with Council members expressing enthusiasm for a business-centered approach before handing the details of the fund to the Music Commission and other stakeholders.

Council has asked the Music Commission for an official vote of support for the current program structure at its November meeting before the item comes to Council for approval.

“Our goal was, let’s do some investments here that might create more stability and sustainability for the music industry,” Adler said. “What if the city bought a club, or a place for a club, and it was a training ground for managers, artists, barkeeps, and everybody in the industry? A real training ground, like going to Napa Valley and going to a culinary academy with the best restaurants, but everybody in there is learning and honing enough so they’ll be able to go out and open up their own restaurant. If we had a place like that that was underwritten and started getting people who don’t get to play in clubs and elsewhere some club opportunities, and the same for everybody in the industry, that is something that might be sustainable long-term for our city.”

One of the Music Commission’s main objectives with the proposed fund structure is to prioritize equity to give more funding and opportunities to historically underserved communities.

While Adler supports that goal, he sees the grant structure as too similar to the annual awarding of hotel tax-funded Cultural Arts contracts to local artists. He said grants can provide needed income, but aren’t self-sustaining and wouldn’t be as focused on training and supporting music industry jobs.

“I looked at what came back and I saw the equity piece and thought, great, love that, but it looked a lot like Cultural Arts where we’re paying artists to go perform at the library. We are helping that artist with living for another year, and I value that and there is some honing of craft in playing at the library … but if you’re playing at the library a lot of these times you’re playing for five, 10, 15 people. Wouldn’t it be better to put them in an actual club on Sixth Street on a Friday night and let them hear when people applaud them, or start booing and throwing peanuts? Let them be in that environment, trucking in their equipment and learning the trade and the craft,” he said.

“This just looks too much like we’re trying to get from one year to the next,” Adler continued. “I know for some people that moment might be what it takes to kick them off, but I wanted to send it back down and say, be more creative. Be more long-term in your scope. Maybe we create an academy club that is (focused on) Latino music and tries to develop that brand and audience. Maybe there’s one that’s Black, and one that’s women, since quite frankly among the groups that are having the most difficulty getting started in the music profession, women are right there.”

Adler said an outside vendor or possibly the city’s newly formed economic development corporation would have to manage a business-focused use of the Live Music Fund instead of city staff, though the Music Commission will likely have to take the next year working on a plan that would differ from the current grant-focused structure.

If the Music Commission votes to support the grant structure of the Live Music Fund, Adler said Council would likely approve a one-time passage with the expectation that a new business-focused plan would be created over the next year.

“If that’s what the group came back with I would support that, because I think this could be really good and I want to get money out the door,” he said, adding that staff and the commission would need to communicate that the grants may not be available in subsequent years.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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