Austin musicians get discounted gym memberships under new program to keep them healthy


AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new partnership is giving musicians in the live music capital of the world access to programs to keep them healthy.

A few months ago, the YMCA of Austin teamed up with the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) to offer discounted memberships as low as $15 a month. About 500 musicians have signed up so far.

“This partnership was really a natural fit,” said the Y’s vice president, Sean Doles. Both groups are dedicated to keeping people healthy, especially on a budget.

In its latest annual report, HAAM found its average member makes less than $2,000 a month. A gym membership or healthcare are often not priorities.

“Rent goes up, the cost of living goes up, but if you’re an artist, the money that you get for your art has not gone up,” said Nikki Birdsong, a freelance pianist in Austin.

Birdsong plays at recitals, private parties, nonprofits, church services — the list goes on. She’s built up a network in Austin to keep herself busy, but her income is still dependent on whether she can play. “When you do contract work, if you don’t do the work, you don’t get paid,” she said. “So you kind of can’t afford to be sick.”

Since joining the Y a few months ago when the partnership started, Birdsong is working out several times a week. “I feel amazing,” she said. Her energy is up, as is her focus at the piano.

A musical history

The musicians taking advantage of the partnership are following in talented footsteps. “Jerry Jeff Walker, Bob Schneider, Kevin Russell of Shinyribs, Kelly Willis, Bruce Robeson,” Doles rattled off. “A lot of people come through the Y.”

The plan for 2020 is to bring even more musicians into the fold and grow the program further. HAAM estimates there are more than 8,000 working musicians in the city.

Doles hopes the partnership will also appeal to touring musicians, because a Y membership grants access to more than 2,500 facilities across the country.

The YMCA is also looking into ways to bring more music into its facilities. “Maybe we’ll try something for South by Southwest,” Doles said. “Maybe it’s South by South-Y.”

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