Music Commission supports using 50% of Austin’s Live Music Fund for racial equity


AUSTIN (KXAN) — At the Oct. 19 meeting of the Austin Music Commission, the commission unanimously voted to recommend 50% of the city’s Live Music Fund be dedicated towards BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) who work in Austin’s music scene.

This was spurred by a recommendation by artist and commission vice-chair Jonathan ‘Chaka’ Mahone. Rick Carney, who chairs the commission explained so long as the city finds the plan Mahone proposed is legal and feasible, the commission unanimously supports making this creative equity fund a reality.

A mural designed by Austin artist Chaka Mahone outside Empire Control Room reads “Black Everythang Matters.” (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard)

“We support the ask, and we just want to try and figure out the best way to make it happen,” Carney shared.

City staff will go over the recommendations the commission put forward, then return to the commission with the next steps forward.

“Music like all sectors is highly impacted by racism,” Mahone explained in an interview with KXAN.

“Equity is all about getting to a point where racism is no longer a social determinant of someone’s outcome socially, and we’ve got a long way to go for that,” Mahone said. “And the only way we can chip away at that is by investing in those communities directly.”

The Live Music Fund

When Austin’s City Council voted to begin the process of expanding Austin’s convention center, it enabled the city under state tax code to increase the local portion of the Hotel Occupancy Tax—the extra tax for visitors on their Austin lodging. Council also approved a plan for 15% of the revenue from the added Hotel Occupancy Taxes to go toward a Live Music Fund for local music.

This Live Music Fund is separate from the handful of pandemic relief funds created by the city this year as a lifeline to a music community that has been hard hit by restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Since the Live Music Fund was voted into existence, music community members have met in public forums and working groups to figure out how the fund should work. The fund has only just started generating revenue, and with hotel stays and travel taking a hit during the pandemic, the fund may not generate as much as it would in a year of normal travel. The finance staff for the city’s Economic Development Department say $3 million is included in the FY 2020-21 budget “for local music initiatives and must meet the requirements of Texas Tax Code Section 351.101(a)(4), which is used to promote arts, culture, and tourism and events. “

Last year, estimates from music advocates were that this Live Music Fund could generate as much as $40 million for Austin’s music community over the course of a decade.

Currently, the city’s timeline expects this fund should be ready to launch by March 2021.

A piece of the P.I.E.

Mahone explained this proposal to direct half of the Life Music Fund dollars to a BIPOC creative equity fund is based on three goals: preservation, innovation and elevation (which Mahone refers to as PIE).

He said the intent is to create a fund that preserves the historic musical contributions, elevates the present endeavors and innovates for the future of people of color in music. The funds could go to musicians of color themselves as well as to organizations that move the needle with advancing racial equity in music.

In June, Mahone’s initial idea was to have half of the Live Music Funds go towards Black members of Austin’s music community, citing the contributions of Black musicians to Austin’s music legacy and the systemic racism and gentrification Austin’s Black community has endured.

More than 3,800 people expressed support in an online petition for the creation of this fund, including well-known Austin artists such as Shakey Graves and Jim Eno and venues like Paramount Theater, Empire Control Room and Cheer Up Charlies.

But ultimately, Mahone said it made more sense for the Black Live Music Fund to be organized outside of the city and directly by Black community members.

His vision now is this new creative equity fund will go toward “anybody that’s in the space that is contributing and creating opportunities for communities of color” with priority given to those most impacted by racism.

These funds, he explained, could go to smaller projects, like a musician who needs help making their first album or to larger ventures, like someone setting out to make a venue to highlight musicians of color.

Mahone believes “Austin is not doing enough to develop the Black talent and just, in general, the communities of color.”

“It’s about investing more into these groups, because we are the ones currently who are creating the culture, but the ones who have benefited from it haven’t been us,” he continued.

According to a census of people working in Austin’s music industry commissioned by the city and published in 2015, both Black and Hispanic residents were underrepresented in Austin’s music community compared to their percentage of the overall population. That survey reported of the more than 2,000 musicians surveyed, 4.4% were African American and 10.4% were Hispanic. According to the most recent, available census numbers, 7.8% of Austin’s population identifies as only Black or African American, and 34.3% of Austin’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino.

The data on the more than 1,500 musicians who applied for Austin Musician Disaster Relief funding during the pandemic showed 8% of applicants identifying as Black or African American and 14% identifying as Hispanic or Latino.

Applicants to Austin’s Musician Disaster Relief program broken down by race and ethnicity. Data as of Sept. 3, 2020 (Courtesy: City of Austin)

“When you elevate someone like me, you do a lot for others,” Mahone emphasized. “That’s the key is: when you support an artist who is underrepresented and most impacted by systemic racism and the challenges that come along with that, you raise everyone else up.”

He offered the example of how his band, Riders Against the Storm, received funding to hold a music festival, which in turn allowed him to pay 200 people per year, most of whom were people of color, to help out with the festival.

A screenshot from the virtual meeting of Austin’s Music Commission on Oct. 19. (Screenshot via ATXN)

Rick Carney, who chairs the music commission, said he is hopeful the commission’s action this week will ultimately transform into a resolution council can vote on.

Carney said it was also important for him to support this fund to recognize the historic contributions of people of color to the music Austinites know and love.

“It’s no secret that African Americans were the ones who created rock music; that’s the genre I work in professionally. I teach rock music,” Carney shared.

“We owe African Americans, not only a debt of gratitude, but we need to acknowledge their contributions and allow for future contributions,” he added.

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