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A new Austin program will give local artists $5k-10k to create music festivals and events

Children dance by the stage at RAS Day 2015 at Kenny Dorham's Backyard. Music Commission chair Chaka Mahone said city support helped him to build the event into a vibrant community happening.

A new program from the city aims to provide resources to a diverse group of artists and independent promoters to create music festivals and events.

Under proposed guidelines presented to the Austin Music Commission on Monday, the Live Music Fund Event Program would award grants of $5,000 to $10,000 to artists and presenters to use over a 12-month period to create virtual and live music events. Application scoring criteria for the program prioritize opportunities for historically underserved groups including racial and ethnic minorities and members of LGBTQIA, female-identifying and disability communities. Applications from working musicians and small promoters with three or fewer employees on staff also will be prioritized. 

“The hope is that by putting the grants in the hands of the musicians, they can go out into the community and start collaborating and curating new and interesting events,” Erica Shamaly, director of the city’s music and entertainment division, said at the meeting.

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The city plans to allocate $2.5 million from the Live Music Fund to award through the program in 2022. The fund was created in 2019 when City Council approved a 2-cent increase in hotel room taxes, earmarking 15% of the new revenue for live music. At the time, city officials predicted the fund might net $3.6 million a year, but with the dramatic decrease in travel due to the global coronavirus pandemic, revenue is down for all of Austin's hotel occupancy tax-funded programs.

Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, acting director of the city's Economic Development Department, said awarding $2.5 million for the upcoming fiscal year would leave a $2.3 million balance to award the following year if the expected incoming funds are collected. She noted that number might change "depending on how the tourist economy has picked back up."

Event producers could collaborate with established venues or use the money to produce events at non-traditional spaces like libraries or parks. The grant would give artists “the funds that they probably have always dreamed of to be able to go and book that residency at that one venue, or to do that festival that they've always fantasized about,” Shamaly said. 

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The proposed guidelines include a framework centered on the acronym PIE (preservation, innovation, elevation) that Music Commission chair Chaka Mahone developed last year. Key elements include honoring the historical heritage of underserved communities, investing in innovative and inclusive new business models and working to empower underrepresented artists through education and promotion.

Grant recipients will be able to use money for performance guarantees, venue rental, marketing and other event production expenses. Shamaly said there is an expectation that any musician hired to work on a production funded through the project would be paid at a rate of $150 per hour. 

In addition to money, grant recipients will receive professional development training and guidance on subjects like cultural tourism, marketing techniques and how to use web analytics for promotion. 

Holt-Rabb said the goal is to make the program “very robust.” 

“It's not just about getting cash for an event, but it's about making you a better business person,” she said.  

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Shamaly described the program as “a win-win situation” allowing the city to “provide training support to the musicians to bring more audiences to their music” while also engaging in “a true economic development kind of exercise to build the industry here in Austin, but build it in a more equitable way."

“These are powerful changes and reforms that I feel are going to move the city forward,” Mahone said. He noted that with city support, his hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm was able to build a vibrant cultural festival, RAS Day, that featured women of color as headliners. 

“I can't express enough how important a step like this is for artists that have vision, but maybe not the resources to take a risk and to develop a foundation for not just themselves, but for the community they represent,” he said.   

“I’m excited. This is good news for a lot of people who haven’t been at the table for a long time.” 

Some details for the program, including whether it will include third party review panels and a third party administrator, are still under consideration. The city is seeking feedback on the proposed guidelines for the Live Music Fund Event Program. Community members are invited to share their thoughts in a comment form on the cultural funding review page of the city's website.

At the Music Commission meeting, city staff also detailed another new grant program aimed at nonprofits working in Austin's creative sectors. The Austin Arts & Culture Non-Profit Relief Grant, funded by the federal American Rescue Plan, will provide $20,000 awards to 100 Austin organizations. Applications open on July 14 at atxrecovers.com.