AUSTIN (KXAN)— It’s a tradition with deep Tejano roots, celebrated by Latino families for generations.
“Conjunto was the beginning of Tejano,” Director of Rancho Alegre Conjunto Music Festival said.
The Rancho Alegre Conjunto Music Festival, organized by the local Rancho Alegre nonprofit, celebrates the historic music genre in Austin in late April. The music, played with a button accordion and bajo sexto, is commonly heard in South Texas and Northern Mexico and is considered the root of Tejano music.
The festival has been a part of Austin’s music scene for more than 30 years.
Since 2014, the spring festival has relied heavily on funding from the City of Austin’s Cultural Arts Division. When the organization’s 2023 application for funding was denied, they thought it had to be a mistake.
Organizers said it appealed the decision, but were still denied Austin’s Thrive Grant funding.
“The sad irony is that this grant was intended to alleviate the issue of cultural erasure, but by not funding it, it is actively participating in cultural erasure,” Rancho Allegre’s Communications Director, Piper LeMoine said. “So our only choice is to crowdsource the festival through appealing to individuals and businesses from now through the end of AmplifyATX.”
In a release, Rancho Alegre said it is seeking a “hail mary,” trying to raise $35,000 by the end of AmplifyATX, which is Austin’s annual day of giving, to fund the festival. AmplifyATX starts Wednesday and runs through Thursday afternoon.
Austin restructured funding for its Cultural Arts Division with the Thrive Grant being the first of three new programs awarding organizations with funds this year.
According to the city:
“Thrive sustains and grows local arts nonprofits through operating grants and access to a supportive peer cohort with capacity building, networking, and learning opportunities. Based on community feedback, Thrive is designed to be competitive, equitable, and accessible for organizations with mid-sized operating budgets.”
Nearly $4 million was awarded to 36 cultural nonprofit organizations. There was a two-step review process for applications. More than 150 organizations applied for a 2023 Thrive Grant.
“Final award amounts were based on the requested amount and panel score,” the City of Austin said.
After word that Cuellar’s organization won’t be getting funding they’ve always been able to rely on, he’s worried his culture is fading.
It’s artists like Camilo Cantu who gave Conjunto music its soul. A soul that’s had a home in East Austin for generations.
“You’re dancing like country, except you’re doing just one foot at a time. So it’s like…dun, dun, dun,” Frank Cuellar, Director of Rancho Allegre Conjunto Festival said with a smile.
Cuellar grew up in East Austin.
“There were joints here…as a kid, even though I couldn’t get in, I would take my bike, and I’d sit outside and just listen,” Cuellar said.
The city said it changed the structure of its funding to try to help more nonprofits.
“The primary purpose of this program is to support and develop arts organizations and cultural institutions of buy in for communities that are at immediate risk of cultural erasure and displacement within Austin, and or have been institutionally marginalized and underfunded,” City of Austin Cultural Arts Division Manager, Meghan Wells said.
According to the city, 60% of applicants who applied for the Thrive Grant, were returning applicants.
Some recipients got more money than ever this time around.
“As the community requested, this is a competitive application process with larger funding amounts for greater impact,” the city said. “Readers reviewed and scored responses to the “Mission and Key Constituencies” application section, and the top scoring 59 semi-finalists went to the full Review Panel review.”
However, some organizations like Conjunto Music Festival are left scrambling for funding needed for an event that’s less than two months away.
The next grant program through Austin’s Cultural Arts Department is Elevate, followed by Nexus.
” … Elevate will offer broad sector support to fund the creative and administrative expenses of cultural producers, we anticipate over 200 awards with a total funding bucket of $6 million,” the city said. “The final Cultural Funding grant will be Nexus, with a focus on nurturing new and emerging applicants by funding creative public projects. This program will fund 50 grants of $5,000 every 6 months. “
According to the city, in total, the Cultural Funding program will fund approximately 286 grants for the creative community in 2023.