In the past year, the city of Austin created a task force dedicated to increasing equity, diversity and inclusion in the music industry. On Wednesday night, a new nonprofit dedicated to promoting diversity and underrepresented genres in Austin music was launched from that working group's efforts.
The launch was celebrated with a concert at 3Ten, and backstage Mayor Steve Adler said the organization grew out of his broad-ranging omnibus resolution to support the creative arts in Austin. Gavin Garcia, the head of the all-volunteer Austin Music Commission, helped lead the efforts and has taken on the role of executive director of the nonprofit, which is called EQ Austin.
“It still is a telltale sign that we don’t have an urban music colony that has the visibility that we should have, or a Latin music (one),” Garcia said.
They are no paid staff positions. The concert was paid for by a city of Austin cultural arts grant, and Garcia said EQ Austin has a multiyear base funding commitment from Austin Music Movement, a collection of local music advocacy organizations.
Wednesday's show, called One Road Austin, kicked off two weeks of events celebrating diversity throughout the city, including public talks, theatrical presentations, Day of the Dead celebrations and more concerts. Information about all the events is available at oneroadaustin.com.
Led by music director Alex Vallejo, the concert was a tightly programmed showcase, with over 20 groups representing the broad range of musical styles in Austin, including blues, hip-hop, Americana, Latin music and rock ’n’ roll. Legendary Tejano artist Ruben Ramos put in a show-stopping performance, and emerging talents the Tiarra Girls and Lesly Reynaga proved the future of Latin music in the city burns bright. R&B artist Alesia Lani smoldered, while folksy talent Betty Soo sang like a honky-tonk angel. Hot new hip-hop artists the Teeta, Deezie Brown and Harry Edohoukwa drew a huge crowd response, and the evening included a tribute to the first Austin hip-hop artist to enjoy mainstream success, MC Overlord, who died earlier this year.
“It does not get any better than this in Austin, Texas,” Adler said from the stage halfway through the show. “Austin music is core to our culture, to our soul. It’s core to who we are in this city.”
Garcia says he plans to make One Road Austin an annual affair, and his new group also will promote other events throughout the year. They already have a hip-hop and Latin music showcase on the books at Empire Control Room in February, and he said they are working with South by Southwest on some projects. They are also collaborating with other Austin music nonprofits.
“We’re working with everybody— HAAM and SIMS and Austin Music Foundation — on engaging communities of color,” he said.
Backstage, Adler said the new organization is about “creating opportunities, creating awareness, helping to drive the political will that’s necessary to actually put real resources against these issues.”
In part, “resources” means money, but Adler says it’s also about “opening up doors and making it so that when people are programming music in this city they’re thinking about diversity and equity.”
“That’s beginning to happen in lots of different industries in this city, with the Spirit of East Austin project, with the Courageous Conversations. It’s happening in access to capital issues. It’s happening in housing issues. It’s happening in delivery of health care issues. It needs to be happening in the music industry too because we have a lot to celebrate in this city, but it doesn’t happen unless it’s intentional,” he said.