How should Austin spend millions of dollars in new live music fund? Forum seeks input

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A community forum on Monday afternoon will collect ideas from musicians and other live music advocates about how to spend millions of dollars the city of Austin expects to bring into a new “live music fund.”

The fund will pull money from hotel occupancy taxes. City council voted earlier this year to increase those taxes by 2% and earmark 15% of that increase to the live music fund. The city’s been collecting that money into the new fund since Sept. 30.

Monday’s forum, from 2-4 p.m. at City Hall, encourages everyone to share their ideas for how to spend the more than $3 million the fund is expected to generate each year.

Erica Shamaly, the city’s music and entertainment division manager, told KXAN that as long as the ideas promote tourism, the working group will consider them.

“There’s no one answer,” said Matt Ott, co-founder of the music membership group Black Fret. “These funds are going to go a long way to providing a lot of answers.”

One idea he hopes the city considers is creating public-private partnerships to stretch the tax dollars. “People love matching grants,” Ott said.

“The music scene in Austin is an ecosystem and it consists of the venues, the musicians themselves, the fans, the businesses that support the music and even the tech, government and educational institutions in this town who have a role in making sure that what we cherish is supported,” he said.

The future of live music

Austin’s music scene faces “so many stress points,” Ott said, including rising rents, pressure on venues and shifting revenue streams. “It’s getting harder and harder” to be a working musician here.

The new money, he and other advocates believe, can ensure the next generation has the same live music options.

“This is an extremely worthy thing to put money towards,” said Sally Nava, a teacher at Heartsong Music in north Austin. The school teaches kids from birth through early childhood to sing and find their rhythm.

They start early to instill a love of music and to help kids develop creative pathways in their developing brains.

“I think that many musicians… at the core of why they’re making music is that spark it ignites in them,” Nava said.

Scott Mann brought his two kids, ages 5 and almost 2, to a class at Heartsong on Friday. “Music helped me through self-expression, and I want to give that to my kids,” he said.

When they’re a bit older, he hopes to accompany his kids to shows around the city and share live music experiences with them. And one day, if they decide to pursue music, he wants them to have the opportunity to start gigging themselves, “as long as mom and dad get backstage passes.”

Community engagement

Monday’s forum is the start of the city’s process to gather input on how to spend the hotel occupancy tax money.

The city is coordinating the forum with the Live Music Fund Working Group, comprised of members of the Austin Music Commission and other stakeholders in the live music community.

Additional public meetings and outreach events will be posted at that link, Shamaly said, and Monday’s meeting will also be streamed live on the division’s Facebook page.

How fast the city moves to spend the money depends on how quickly or slowly ideas need to be implemented. The live music fund is accruing cash now and can’t spent this fiscal year, Shamaly said.

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