Efforts to garner support for financial relief for Austin musicians and music venues in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic have ramped up in recent weeks as one of the city’s most vital cultural and economic sectors deals with major effects of shutdowns.
Austin’s self-proclaimed designation as the Live Music Capital of the World could be at risk if many music venues are forced out of business permanently as a result of coronavirus-related closures that have now passed the two-month mark. That’s the primary motivation behind a series of recommendations the Red River Cultural District sent to the City Council this week.
The organization’s letter to the city asserted that "the live music and cultural tourism economy in Austin will permanently close by 2021 without dedicated disaster relief funding." Its recommendations included using part of the city’s $170.8 million share of federal coronavirus relief funds to assist 54 venues identified by the local Music Venue Alliance advocacy group. The group also suggested allocating $35 million for the city to "purchase land in the RRCD and become landlord for live music venues."
The requests come at a time when the council must evaluate many requests for financial assistance during the pandemic, including one from civil rights group Central Texas Interfaith on Wednesday that recommended earmarking $40 million for residents needing help with rent.
Other programs in the works are specifically targeted to musicians. The council is expected to decide soon on details relating to the $1.5 million Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund, designed to provide grants to individual musicians shut out of live performing during the pandemic.
A key factor with that fund is how it will be administered. An Austin Music Commission meeting on May 6 discussed the possibility of a partnership with MusiCares, the charity arm of Grammy-presenting organization the Recording Academy.
Austin singer-songwriter Christine Albert is chair emeritus of the Academy’s national board of trustees. Albert said Thursday that the infrastructure the Academy and MusiCares recently created for their own $14 million COVID-19 Relief Fund could allow Austin to be a sort of pilot project for such civic partnerships.
"If we created this model, it would be an example for other cities," she said, noting that it could also help inspire additional contributions from the private sector. "A lot of Austin music supporters would be more inclined (to contribute) if they knew it was going to Austin musicians. I think it would inspire local giving."
Meanwhile, other private-sector fundraising efforts continue to pop up. On Monday evening, local nonprofit Chosen.org is presenting a livestream fundraiser featuring local acts Matchmaker Band, PDA Band and Love & Happiness Band. The event is part of a drive to raise $80,000 in sponsorships and donations primarily to cover income losses for 35 musicians and five sound/lighting crew members associated with the private-events booking agency Moontower Entertainment.
"These musicians are all independent contractors whose main source of income comes from the private event industry," Chosen.org’s Allison Armstrong said. "Our goal is to raise $2,000 per musician just to float them through the next month."
Other organizations centered on musicians have focused on lobbying and representation. Last year, local singer and former Austin Music Commission chair Nakia Reynoso created the nonprofit Austin Texas Musicians as an outgrowth of a Facebook page created in 2008. In a public post this week, Reynoso asked musicians to become members of the organization.
"Austin Texas Musicians is a trusted stakeholder in the community and our members are recognized as a powerful voting block with a unified voice that raises the alarm and demands the change we deserve," he wrote. "We are in grave danger of losing many of the beloved music venues that employ us and thousands of our friends in the service and production industries. There is a silver lining though. We've never had a better chance to start over and try again."