hanging on the telephone
Austin's Red River district asks live music fans to call City Council
Even in music, nothing is truly free. In the first week of the year, Austinites descended upon Red River Street — the downtown haven for small venues and local musicians who play there — for a weekend of free shows aptly titled Free Week.
Those attendees were encouraged to give a donation, buy concessions that give back, and otherwise support the Red River Cultural District (RRCD) — both the area immediately surrounding the famous street and the charitable organization that helps it run sustainably. This allowed the organization to pay the performers, and hopefully have some funds leftover.
This grassroots funding, combined with business sponsorship, has been keeping things running, but the RRCD is hoping Austin City Council can give it a boost. It's asking fans of local music to call in and make a case for funding to be worked into 2024's mid-year budget amendment.
The RRCD asked for a grant in 2023 via the Elevate Grant Program, which "offers $10,000 to $75,000 grants for arts organizations, individual artists, and creative businesses that produce culturally vibrant and diverse artistic content." Tourism is an important part of how this grant runs; It derives funds from the City of Austin's Hotel Occupancy Tax, and it aims to support arts that cater to tourists as well as the general Austin public.
A list of 200 final recipients for the 2023-2024 grant includes many recognizable arts organizations around Austin, such as KMFA Classical 89.5 FM, Zach Theatre, Austin Film Festival, and Texas Book Festival. The RRCD did not make the cut, and its appeal was declined.
Because this avenue has closed, the RRCD sees City Council as its workaround, and hopes a council member will "champion this important community initiative," according to RRCD interim executive director Nicole Klepadlo, writing in to CultureMap.
"In order for the City Council to take action on an aid package to Red River Cultural District, it will take various City Council members' support," Klepadlo writes. "We believe the voice of the Red River Cultural District extends to the people that work here, visit here, and musicians who play here; and furthermore, we also believe it's important for our City Council members to hear from all those who see community value in ensuring the long term viability of the Red River Cultural District."
The RRCD plans to use aid funds for the following initiatives (from a release):
- Developing Red River Cultural District’s signature festival events, Hot Summer Nights and Free Week
- Documenting the story of live music in Austin by telling the rich deep-rooted history of the Red River Cultural District
- Conducting an economic analysis of the District Supporting daily business operations while expanding full-time staffing
- Year-round promoting and marketing of this worldwide cultural tourism destination and entertainment district located in the heart of the “Live Music Capital of the World”
The RRCD already has support in a City Council-adjacent entity: the Music Commission. This group advises the council on music matters. It unanimously agreed during its meeting on January 8, 2024, that the RRCD needs support.
The official ask, as delineated in a packet by the RRCD, was "Financial support ... that is financially consistent with the funding allocation given to the other City designated Cultural and Heritage Districts[, and] gap funding until further work is presented to City Council on a comprehensive District Policy Framework."
This is where the fans come in: Austinites who believe City Council should allocate aid to the Red River Cultural District in the 2024 mid-year budget can call council members to directly ask for that support. The RRCD has prepared a script for callers to read, or for interested parties to drop into an email.
The script contains prompts for personal appeals, which help council members understand that there is organic support for the issue, and people actually understand what they're asking for and why. Many callers find it helpful to read a script in advance of the call, for ideas, and ultimately speak from the heart when on the phone, to avoid sounding robotic.
Here is a shortened version of the script:
My name is ______, a local resident of [District X, in the Y neighborhood].
I am here today to request your support for the Red River Cultural District and our music economy in Austin.
I am seeking your support of the Red River Cultural District and ask that you please support funding to the Red River Cultural District with an immediate aid package.
The Red River Cultural District is such an important part of our city! My favorite memory in the Red River Cultural District is ______.
I feel strongly that you and the Austin City Council should take these steps to support the Red River Cultural District, because this organization provides so many community benefits to our City including ______.
We need your support because the local music industry in Austin and specifically the Red River Cultural District continues to face so many challenges including ______.
Supporting Red River is important to me because ______.
Thank you for your time and consideration. Please support the Red River Cultural District! [Your Name]
The RRCD has also prepared slides for easy sharing on social media, with instructions on calling, including the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of all 10 city council members. (Don't forget that Mayor Kirk Watson is also part of City Council.)
More information about the RRCD and this initiative is available at redriverculturaldistrict.org.