On Saturday, the SIMS Foundation celebrated 20 years by announcing plans to expand coverage to all Central Texas music industry professionals in 2016. The nonprofit was founded with a mission to help musicians struggling with mental health and addiction issues, and soon it will provide those services to the Austin music scene as a whole.
"It’s a big deal for us because for so long we have been servicing musicians knowing full well that the people who put on the show need our help just as much," Heather Alden, managing director of Sims, said last week before the nonprofit’s anniversary show, which included performances by Patty Griffin, Fastball and Chris Layton.
An Australian music industry study released this year indicated people in support roles, such as lighting techs, sound engineers and roadies, are often in worse shape than musicians, Alden said. The average musician served by SIMS makes roughly $17,000 a year, Alden said, and she said she suspects many others in the local industry are similarly strapped for cash. "They have insecure incomes," she said. "They have long times on the road. Their proximity to alcohol and drugs is high."
The SIMS Foundation was created in 1995, when Don Ellison joined forces with local music leaders to create services to help musicians who struggle with depression and other mental health issues, following the suicide of his son, popular local musician Sims Ellison.
The foundation currently taps a network of more than 75 therapists, psychiatrists and addictionologists to service a client base of roughly 600 musicians. They are funded by charitable contributions from the Austin community as well as grants from partners like the St. David’s Foundation and Central Health. As provisions from the Affordable Care Act have phased in, Sims has helped many clients shift onto full coverage health care with mental health services, freeing up space to serve a broader client base in the music industry.
"We want to help as many people as possible and I think we have the space and the capacity to do that," Alden said. "We want to be that safety net for the entire music industry of Austin."