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City taking criticisms, survey results to improve Live Music Fund process

Monday, September 25, 2023 by Chad Swiatecki

The city is taking extensive feedback from a local musician advocacy group into consideration as it works to refine the Live Music Fund’s application process, which many hopeful recipients claimed was not aligned with the needs of working musicians.

At this month’s meeting of the Music Commission, representatives from the Austin Texas Musicians nonprofit group shared a series of comments from members who said the program, which is completing its first year, seemed like it was intended for event and concert promoters rather than musicians hoping to receive assistance with securing live bookings. The group’s feedback on the application process alone was largely negative, with other comments criticizing the need for financial plans or the level of funding available for recording projects or other non-event applications.

Pat Buchta, CEO of the group, said an online survey that is currently open is gathering more detailed information about users’ experience with the program, which has selected its 368 recipients of grants for either $5,000 or $10,000.

“This is a lot of negative feedback but, again, this is the first year and we’re all figuring this out together,” Buchta said. “I hate to present information without solutions, so when we do come to the table next month and in the coming months, we’ll be working with you guys on what those solutions can look like.”

Commission members and staff from the Economic Development Department said they want to see those survey results as part of the evaluation and process to refine the Live Music Fund and other city programs that might use a similar application process.

Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, director of EDD, said the city has hired an outside contractor to do a survey of this year’s applicants and recipients through the end of the year to determine what issues on digital literacy, grant writing processes or language barriers might have created barriers to apply.

“We’ve heard the concerns and we don’t wanna have barriers for our clients because this is an important grant,” she said. “Until I’m satisfied that we can get the best experience for our clients, we will not roll out the next grant until we have done a comprehensive look. … We’ve heard this, we recognize it and we admit there are a lot of things that go into this formula.”

First approved by City Council in 2019, the Live Music Fund offered $3.5 million in grants, with 660 applicants completing the online process for consideration. The budget for next year’s program has grown to more than $4 million, though live music venues will be added as a new category of eligibility.

As a response to Buchta’s presentation, Commissioner Celeste Quesada asked the group or the city to ask questions of applicants about their prior experiences seeking competitive arts grants, with the hope of learning best practices.

Commissioner Lauryn Gould, who is a working musician and received a grant from the fund, agreed with comments that the program seemed geared more toward special events and those with substantial promotional experience.

“It felt like in order for these projects to really do well in that application system, they needed to be very special … and you had to really craft something that was like a once-off, big thing,” she said. “That is stimulating creatively and it’s allowing us to do projects that we probably wouldn’t do otherwise, but we need to make sure that we understand that there’s a difference between that sort of thing and then helping out the workaday musicians to just be able to make a living and live in this town.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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