How Austin’s $25M arts, music fund commitment aims to assist struggling creatives

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The amps of several renowned Austin music venues are revving up this weekend, marking a return to live performances amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Stubb’s will kick off the summer season with a five-day, sold out performance May 26-30 from the Black Pumas, initially scheduled for September 2020.

The Mohawk is gearing up for a return to the music scene with its sold out reopening celebration May 27, featuring performances from Heartless Bastards and The Tender Things.

Austin artists, creatives take industry hit

But as some venues prepare for a long-awaited return to live events, many are still feeling the financial implications posed by COVID-19 — an issue Austin City Council is looking to address.

Austin City Council approved May 20 a resolution directing Manager Spencer Cronk to explore funding resources to assist the city’s arts, culture and music communities. With a funding cap not to exceed $25 million, the city will tap into the American Revenue Plan, Austin’s general revenue and additional city, state and federal funding pools to assist creative institutions in need.

The resolution outlines up to $15 million in relief and recovery funding for Austin’s art sector over a two-year timespan. For the city’s music venues and artists, the city will allocate up to $10 million in a two-year time period, per the resolution.

In an interview with KXAN, Council member Vanessa Fuentes said the creative sector has been the hardest hit within the past 15 months and faces continued financial implications spurred by the pandemic. Fuentes, who authored the resolution, said Austin City Council accounted for recommendations from Austin’s arts and music commissions when drafting the initiative.

“We know that we are now 15 months into the pandemic, and so the needs of the community are dire,” she said. “My office received over 300 emails from artists, musicians all throughout Austin, calling on Austin City Council to take action and to ensure that funds from the American Rescue Plan are allocated to serve the immediate needs of the creative community.”

Exploring funding resources

Proposed funding sources noted in the resolution include American Rescue Plan dollars, the city’s general fund revenue and additional local, state and federal resources. Fuentes said local artists commissions and nonprofits have approached Travis County for funding assistance, and added city leaders are looking into the federal Shuttered Venues Program for added dollars.

“We wanted to ensure that we understood the landscape and understood all of the different relief programs that are available to these industries, so that when we consider the American Rescue Plan dollars, that we’re able to allocate accordingly,” she said.

Following council action Thursday, Fuentes said the city is looking for as immediate of action as possible to identify, acquire and distribute funds. Cronk and fellow city leaders will compile a proposal outlining what local, state and federal resources are at their disposal.

Council’s resolution also expands which entities qualify for funding relief. Under the now-approved resolutions, nonprofit organizations are eligible to receive these funds — an addition Fuentes acknowledged as “an oversight” the city has learned from its initial pandemic relief funds.

“The key here is timing is of the essence,” she said. “I mean, many venues, many artists are on their last leg, and so they really just want to see this funding go out as quickly as possible.”

Council member Ann Kitchen, who sponsored the resolution, said the resolution emphasizes the need for immediate support. As opposed to creating an entirely new program, she said council identified existing programs and funds — in addition to the city’s upcoming fiscal budget — to help expedite the process.

“I think that our arts and music community continue to be in critical need for support,” Kitchen said. “They really are the lifeline and soul of our community.”

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