The Covid-19 pandemic has deeply affected many industries, but perhaps none has the weight of it so great as the music industry. Live music events and venues were some of the first to be shut down with the first wave of lockdowns and will be the last to open and function regularly once things stabilize.
In Austin, Texas, also known as the Live Music Capital of the World, the pandemic will have forced 90 percent of their city’s venues into permanent closure by summertime. But Austin’s Music Commission, a music policy advisory board made up of musicians, members of the city’s music industry, and representatives of Austin’s City Council and the office of the Mayor sees the deplorable plight of the music industry as an opportunity for change.
Austin, though boasting a reputation as the most liberal city in Texas, has been identified as the most economically segregated city in America. Deliberately racialized rezonings and redlining that were set in place in 1928 have pushed the city’s African American presence to a small and concentrated area of the city’s Eastside.
Now, widespread gentrification and the vast influence of the city’s rapidly growing (and mostly white) tech industry are driving out the city’s nonwhite population. In fact, Austin is the only one of the ten fastest-growing cities in America with a declining black population.
To address both issues of longstanding systemic racism and the suffering music industry, Austin’s Music Commission has convinced the City Council to approve an aid package called the Live Music Preservation Fund. This fund will provide technical assistance and $20,000 in cash grants to help venues that are at risk of closures, but to access the money, venues must pledge to develop and implement their own Equity Strategic Plan to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts across the city.
The Music Commission also created a Systemic Racism Working Group, which is co-chaired by Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone of the hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm. The City also outlines specific action areas for venues and promoters to pay attention to when they develop their equity plans. All grantees are also required to participate in an Undoing Systemic Racism workshop that will be led by a racial equity specialist who will remain available as an ongoing advisor to all venues that receive the grant.
At the moment there is very little representation of the city’s colored talent. For emerging R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, and Latin music artists in Austin, the Live Music Preservation Fund is pivotal for their survival.
The hope is that this program will lay the groundwork of creating genre diversity and undoing years of systemic racism and double standards, resulting in long-lasting change for Austin’s music scene.