Editor's note: In this exclusive op-ed, Mayor Steve Adler discusses the current state of Austin music — and how locals can get involved.
I only have so much time in office as Austin’s mayor, so I push things faster than I perhaps ought to, and sometimes that gets me in trouble. But when it comes to the local music industry and creative ecosystem in Austin, I think urgency is warranted because we’re dealing with a crisis — but we’re also facing a huge opportunity for transformation.
The report we got from the city staff is the next step in the process we started when we kicked off the Local Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus Resolution. As I said then, we’re not looking to fund another study. We need specific, concrete, and quick action, because Austin can’t keep losing musicians, music venues, artists, and performance space and remain the city that we love.
There is good stuff in the city staff’s report on the Omnibus Resolution. Two years ago, the council passed a resolution approving the creation of the Agent of Change Principle. That means if, for example, you move in next door to a music venue, you should expect noise late at night, and vice versa to protect residential neighborhoods. It’s time to get that done.
Also, the struggles that music and arts venues face with permitting and licensing are compounded by land-use regulations and an inexplicably complicated process to obtain an entertainment license. In many cases, these are problems faced by many small businesses in town. We should use the crisis in the local music and arts industries to enact positive changes that would have a dramatic spillover effect.
All this would only be a good start, which is why I have reconvened the working group that helped come up with the ideas that fueled the Omnibus Resolution in the first place. And to them, we have added entrepreneurs, public policy experts, and other local experts who are working together in new ways to figure out what the actionable steps are that will get us from these immediate and necessary reforms to our local government regulatory structure to partnerships with existing groups, funding sources, and businesses, and ultimately to transformative changes that would do for our music industry what similar collaborations did to create our local tech startup scene.
These high-level volunteers know what our challenges are. We need diversity, equity, and inclusion in how the city supports local music and the arts. We need to expand the safety net. We need to promote local music tourism in Austin and figure out how to export our local music around the country and internationally. Musicians and artists need affordable places to live and work.
And, on the horizon, we need to create a robust music industry that draws on our strengths as a tech startup hub. We do not know what the horizon looks like, only that we will never reach it if we don’t keep moving toward it together.
It would be easy, and entirely in Austin’s tradition, to order another study, to perhaps reread existing studies, and then to choose inaction because of the lack of perfect options. But times like this, when everyone agrees there is a need and the capacity to fill it, do not come around very often. We must create momentum.
The next step is for a special called meeting of the Austin Music Commission, taking place Tuesday, July 12, at 6 pm. If this is something you care about and want to help, this is your opportunity to show up and get involved. The changes to our local music industry and arts scene are not happening at a leisurely pace, and our response can’t either. And just because the horizon of a burgeoning music industry and thriving arts scene are a long way off doesn’t mean we should wait. We need to start quickly and with great urgency.