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City Hears Feedback from Local Musicians on How to Keep Artists in a Pricier Austin

The Austin City Council's looking for recommendations on how to keep artists and artistic communities in an increasingly unaffordable city.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler wants to strengthen the city’s music scene. Earlier this year he introduced a series of proposals designed to do just that. Now, the city is letting the music industry weigh in on what changes they’d like to see at a series of genre-specific public meetings.

Space and affordability were some of the key concerns brought by artists and musicians at a community meeting hosted Wednesday night by Austin’s Arts Commission. City leaders heard from artists like Jenny Larson from the nonprofit Salvage Vanguard Theatre, which hosts dozens of concerts, films and stage productions each year.

“We lose our lease on June 30, 2016. Our landlord offered us an extension at four times what we are paying. We refused to pay it because we will not charge our artists more to use the space. We will not charge our patrons more to see the work because we are inclusive and we are accessible, and we are proud of that.”

Larson said performers need help from the city on how to navigate an increasingly pricey real estate market. She wants protections included in City Council’s Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus Resolution – that’s the official title for the mayor’s series of proposals aimed at boosting the city’s music industry. The resolution cites a report paid for by the advocacy group Austin Music People, which says the city lost 1,200 music industry jobs between 2010 and 2014. Singer Colin MacDonald thinks that exodus is taking a toll on the quality of Austin music and thinks “desegregating” the city’s remaining venues could help.

“You have Red River, you have Sixth Street, you have all these things. But if you play metal, you play here. If you play country, you play here. If you play rock and roll, you play here, and you never meet. Desegregation – it’s important that different genres interact with each other because without that, we have no creative force that can drive us further,” he said.

Others, like artist Alyssa Taylor Wendt, think the omnibus needs to include some emergency measures, like legal assistance for the creative community. Wendt said she’s been forced out of several studios due to skyrocketing rents.

“I sought legal help for what was happening with my studios. Since they’re commercial spaces, [and] the Austin Tenants Council only gives advice for residential spaces, I had no options at all," she said. "There could be all sorts of ways to protect artists.”

City Manager Marc Ott is tasked with developing a plan for implementation. He’s expected to return to council with recommendations for policy changes, financial partnerships and research needed to support the city’s music ecosystem. 

Syeda Hasan is a senior editor at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @syedareports.
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