Austin Music Commission says 50% of Live Music Fund should go to racial equity
The Austin Music Commission on Monday voted unanimously to make a high-level recommendation to the city’s Economic Development Department: 50% of money from the new Austin Live Music Fund should go to a “BIPOC-focused creative equity fund.” (The term BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous and people of color.)
“As Frederick Douglas stated, ‘power concedes nothing without a demand.’ And while words have been expressed by those in power about confronting issues of diversity, equity and inclusion directly, we see little concession to the demand for dramatic change thus far within the music sector regarding equity,” commission vice-chair Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone said in a presentation to the commission introducing the recommendation. The Austin Live Music Fund is financed by the hotel occupancy tax, and the City Council asked the music commission for recommendations about how to spend the new fund. The next step is for the council to discuss the recommendation.
To underline the case for dedicated money to address historic racial inequity in the music scene, Mahone pointed to City Council’s July decision to declare racism a public health crisis in Austin. He noted that “more than 100 studies have linked racism to negative health outcomes.” He also referenced a 2019 Prosperity Now report, “The Racial Wealth Divide in Austin,” which indicated that in 2016, Black people living in Austin made only made 55% of white median income and Austin Latinos made 61% of white median income.
“As a music community, we responded quickly to find emergency funds for musicians affected by the pandemic, but the traumatic and destructive virus of racism and white supremacy has yet to be addressed through policy or funding in the music sector,” he said.
Since he began his push for racial equity allocations in the Live Music Fund, Mahone has contended that most of the sounds that have come to define our city and bolster large festivals and events, from blues to hip-hop to rock ‘n’ roll, have roots in Black culture.
“If the city understands that venues must be preserved, certainly they can take the next logical step to understand that the culture upon which these venues’ profits were built must be preserved as well. If we found $5 million for venues, what will we find for the historically neglected and disenfranchised communities of Austin? What are we willing to commit to make equity real, and reforms robust?” he asked.
He said the funds should be allocated toward three goals, outlined with the acronym PIE, which stands for preservation, innovation and elevation.
“When I hear leaders like Ana Maciel speak about the legacy of Tejano music, or Harold McMillan reminding us of the failed social contracts involved in building a cultural heritage district for Black culture, I think about funds for preservation,” he said. The city could support this goal by providing funding for everything from cultural events to “infrastructural improvements to existing organizations and buildings,” he said.
Innovation funding could go to “organizations, artists and businesses with visions for what the future can look like for historically underserved musicians in Austin,” he said.
He suggested money for elevation should go “to BIPOC-led organizations and leaders that have ideas for building infrastructure that leads to greater awareness of the vibrant BIPOC music scene that currently exists.”
Mahone said the Music Commission’s new Systemic Racism Working Group could use the PIE framework “to determine how (hotel occupancy funds) can be used to create equitable outcomes in Austin music.”
The commission recommended the PIE framework be used in allocating 50% of the Live Music Fund dedicated to racial equity. They also recommended exploring additional funding sources for racial equity programs, as hotel occupancy tax funds vary from year to year and will be drastically reduced this year because of the pandemic.