The new Austin Arts and Culture Non-Profit Relief Grant was established by City Council earlier this spring through officials' deliberations on spending Austin's federal American Rescue Act dollars. Through the program, dozens of city organizations will receive $20,000 allotments for their operations and pandemic relief. Eligible nonprofits include arts- and culture-centered groups and spaces such as theaters, music venues, museums, historical societies, local broadcast outlets and festivals.
"As one of the hardest-hit industries from the pandemic, it is critical to support Austin's creative sector as we work to recover as a community," said Veronica Briseño, Austin's chief economic recovery officer, in a statement. "These grant dollars will help stabilize our local arts and culture organizations that inspire Austin's creative ecosystem."
Submitted applications will be considered based on a scoring framework of organizational need and equity, said Laura Odegaard, a project manager in the Austin Cultural Arts Division, during a July 12 Austin Music Commission meeting. The grading system will also not use a lottery or first-come, first-served system; instead, the groups with the highest scores will be notified of approved funding within days of the application portal's closing.
“One hundred percent of the awards are going to be based on an organization’s score," Odegaard said. "This allows to have more transparency, supports those with most urgent need, and most importantly ... it allows us to lead with equity first."
Austin staff will be grading arts and culture nonprofits applying for grant money based on three general categories. First, 40% of each organization's score will be based on equity, graded depending on the demographics of leadership. Organizational details—including a nonprofit's size and revenue, whom it serves and whether it operates a venue—make up an additional 31% of the grant grade with the remaining 29% based on urgency including COVID-19 fallout and previous relief funding received.
“All of those different things add up to 100 points, and then we’re starting from the top," Odegaard said. "The organizations with the highest points are going to be the first to be awarded, and then we'll just go down the list."
The grant program's application period will remain open from 10 a.m. July 14 through 5 p.m. Aug. 2. A webinar on the grant program is scheduled for July 15.
On top of the new nonprofit grant, the Austin creative scene is expected to receive millions more over the months ahead through initiatives including the Creative Space Assistance
Program and Live Music Fund Program, further detailed by city staff July 12.
Kim McCarson, an economic and business liaison for the Austin Music and Entertainment Division, said awards of between $5,000 and $50,000 could be delivered to live music and performance venues, museums and galleries over the coming fiscal year through the creative spaces program. Funding will be distributed from a $1 million pot for organizations' use on items ranging from rent to facility improvements. And while the program has in the past offered reimbursement for venues' expenses, McCarson said Austin plans to send some money ahead to eligible organizations this coming year.
Another potential change to the creative spaces program structure is an increased focus on equity. McCarson said individuals or businesses from Austin's "historically underrepresented population" could see an additional scoring boost when applying for funding. The program may launch as soon as this fall.
Finally, McCarson shared information on the outlook for support to be sent over the next year through Austin's hotel occupancy tax-funded Live Music Fund. Based on the city's proposed fiscal year 2021-22 budget, the fund could provide around $2.55 million in direct assistance for applicants in the local live music space. Depending on the performance of the Austin tourism industry and related hotel taxes, that number could rise or fall over the year ahead.
Staff said independent promoters, local musicians and smaller groups could be prioritized for funding through late 2021 and 2022 based on new program guidelines. An additional focus on minority, disabled and other underrepresented applicants is proposed as well, which music commission Chair Chaka Mahone highlighted as a positive development across each of the funding plans discussed July 12.
“This is good news for a lot of people that haven’t been at the table for a long time. And it’s important," Mahone said following staff presentations.
Residents and musicians may now provide feedback on the scope of next year's Live Music Fund over the coming weeks while the program details are finalized. More information on the fund may be found here, and comments for city staff may be left here.