Austin was at the beginning of their largest music event of the year, SXSW, when everything began shutting down. Initially there was a lot of unrest and anxiety about what the immediate future held. Over the last six months, the state of Texas has been more permissive in its opening schedule while Austin has remained on the safer side in their plan to re-open. Music venues have remained closed but live music events have taken place at local bars and restaurants on outdoor patios in a safe and socially distanced environment. Many are hopeful that there will be more live music in the coming months in larger outdoor spaces with the use of pods. In the meantime, the city was able to procure $5 million for a Venue Preservation Fund to support its local music scene, while the artists and venues have creatively raised money in many other ways.
Scroll below to read the full interview from October, 2020 with the Austin Pilot City Leaders, Brian, Don and Bobby.
What did the overall situation look like in your city when the pandemic hit?
We were right at the beginning of SXSW during the week where everything started shutting down. There was a lot of unrest and anxiety because no one knew how to react. The mayor started setting gathering restrictions before we went to a full stay-at-home order.
What is the current situation in your city? What has changed?
In general, Texas as a state has been much more permissive than the city of Austin. Bars and restaurants opened briefly, but music venues were not able to. The only music has been some bars and restaurants that have used their outdoor spaces to host events with following procedures. We’re looking into projects to host outdoor, socially distanced and safe events with the use of pods if we can work with our government to allow it.
What did you get out of being a pilot city in the REVS initiative?
There were several takeaways from the REVS initiative but the most beneficial was the documentation of best practices for our small music venues. We were able to do some of this work for the venues, and give them this documentation, which allowed them to focus on other issues such as getting creative about finding funding.
Were you able to procure funding for the local venues? If so, where did the support come from?
We were able to use $5 million to create the Venue Preservation Fund for our local independent venues and we’re currently getting a second crack at another $5 million for the more iconic legacy venues. Additionally, the local music venues had to get creative to find other ways to raise money. Many venues have been selling future VIP tickets to help cover the costs today and others have tried crowdfunding models. Venues are also working with artists to sell merchandise and use 70% to support the venues. One venue in particular even partnered with Vans to create a collaboration shoe to help fund the venue.
AUSTIN, TX - In partnership with the City of Austin, the Austin cohort of the Reopening Every Venue Safely (REVS) campaign has released best practices to help music venues reopen safely.
This music venue best practices guide was developed by local industry representatives with input from local leaders about steps the Austin music venue community should consider taking during the COVID- 19 pandemic. This guide is not advocating reopening venues at this time. Instead, this living document is the first step in a longer process and is intended to give venue owners and operators time to digest the information, make informed decisions, and enter into a dialogue with artists, staff, guests and the City before safe reopening occurs.
The Reopening Every Venue Safely Austin Best Practices Guide outlines practical actions venue owners and operators can undertake when they decide it is time to reopen safely. The guide includes best practices for what artists, venue operators, and production staff should consider prior to, during, and after a show for tasks such as how to manage gear, a notification system in the event of positive cases, and ways to manage crowds safely.
“We partnered with local music industry colleagues and got input from the City to create best practices for when music venues can reopen. We expect this document to evolve as the situation changes with COVID-19,” says Don Pitts with Music Cities Together.
Austin-Travis County remains in Stage 4 of the COVID-19 risk stages. ICU hospitalizations and ventilator access remain a concern, and there is continued risk for further shutdowns if personal safety precautions are not taken. At the moment, Austin Public Health (APH) officials are warning the
public that large gatherings at live events and even smaller family gatherings pose a high risk of spreading the virus. Austin-Travis County residents are strongly urged to continue to stay home when possible, wear face coverings, and practice social distancing.
While the City and County continues to manage the immediate health crisis, the community must simultaneously plan for what reopening safely will look like when it is time to do so.
“We are working closely with our colleagues and partners in the industry to ensure understanding of the state and local Orders, and right now it is best to stay home and take safety precautions. We are also considering what reopening will look like and planning for the future of live events in the Live Music Capital,” says Sara Henry with Austin Center for Events.
The City, County and local industry leaders working together is key to understanding the future of live music and the special events industry in Austin, Texas.
“The situation for Austin music venues is daunting. We’ve seen a study that shows as many as 90% of local music venues could close permanently by October,” says Bobby Garza with Music Cities Together. “We know we can’t reopen right now, but we need to be prepared for the new normal when reopening happens. The REVS guide is intended to help our industry plan for what that looks like.”
The City of Austin is also developing Event Reopening Guidelines for the broader event and venue industry in partnership with APH, Austin Convention Center, Austin Center for Events and others. These guidelines will include both best practice recommendations and new COVID-19 health and safety plan requirements for event and venue operators of all types. Industry professionals can expect to see these new guidelines and requirements within the next month.
Further resources for the creative sector economy include a series of available grants. COVID-19 relief funding opportunities, including the new Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund Reopening, can be found at www.atxrecovers.com. A total of $6 million has been dedicated to COVID-19 creative sector recovery including $3.5 million from the CARES Act, $1.5 million from general fund emergency reserve, and $1 million from Creative Space Assistance Program.
About Austin Center for Events (ACE)
ACE is a collaborative assembly of agencies designed to streamline special event permitting on public and private property. ACE is anchored by teams from Transportation, Parks, Music, Police, Fire, EMS, Code, Waste Management, Development Services and partner agencies, and works closely with event organizers to guide them through the permitting process. More details: www.austintexas.gov/ace
About Music & Entertainment Division, Economic Development
The City of Austin Economic Development Department’s Music & Entertainment Division is highly engaged in developing initiatives that help accelerate the growth of the music industry infrastructure by focusing on job creation, talent export, trade development, and industry revenue growth. More details: www.atxmusic.org.
About Music Cities Together
Music Cities Together (MCT) is a joint initiative between Music Policy Forum and Sound Music Cities focusing on how collaboration between public, private, philanthropic, non-profit and educational sectors can lead to stronger and healthier local music communities.
About Reopening Every Venue Safely (REVS)
REVS is MCT's national campaign to develop and disseminate best practices and action plans for the safe and judicious reopening of music venues in the wake of COVID-19. Nationally, there are 11 partner cities currently participating in REVS: Albuquerque, NM; Austin, TX; Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; King County/Seattle, WA; Los Angeles, CA; Louisville, KY; New Orleans, LA; and Portland, OR. More details: www.musiccitiestogether.org/revs
Cover Photo Credit: Photo by Carlos Alfonso