In September, the Austin City Council voted unanimously to create a dedicated Live Music Fund that will funnel tourism tax dollars into Austin’s music scene for the first time. The money, which comes from a recently approved increase in hotel taxes tied to an expansion of the Austin Convention Center, will amount to roughly $3.6 million dollars annually. The city began collecting money for the fund on Sept. 30.
On Monday, the city music office held a forum to gather community input about how that money should be spent. The city also released an online survey at www.speakupaustin.org for all music industry stakeholders who would like to share opinions on how the money should be allocated.
Music office director Erica Shamaly described Monday’s forum as "the very first step in a process" to set guidelines and criteria so artists and businesses can apply to receive grants from the fund.
Money from the fund must be used to promote tourism and the hotel and convention industry. For years, Austin has used hotel taxes to support local arts organizations through a Cultural Funding Program administered by the city’s cultural arts divisions, but those funds are limited to nonprofit organizations.
Rebecca Reynolds from the Music Venue Alliance said the new fund creates a way to provide money to businesses that have been unable to get such funding. Reynolds said she hopes it will spark a "meaningful conversation about what musicians get paid" that moves beyond an argument of "venues versus musicians."
The Music Venue Alliance and the recently formed nonprofit Austin Texas Musicians have advocated for a wage rebate program to help struggling venues that regularly pay low or no money to local artists. Musicians performing at those clubs would be paid more in exchange for a rebate check from the city to cover the increased wage.
In November, the Austin Music Commission established a Live Music Fund Working Group that includes music commissioners and representatives of Austin’s music community to assist in the process.
At the meeting, several individuals, including Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone, a music commissioner who is part of the working group, expressed concerns that historically underrepresented music communities might be overlooked as the money is allocated.
Shamaly said this meeting would be the first of many discussions about the subject. She encouraged all stakeholders to fill out the survey and engage with the process.
"We need folks who have felt unheard to be heard," she said.