Mayor's Omnibus Resolution: Where's the Fire?

How urgent is the plan to aid the music and creative sectors?

Mayor's Omnibus Resolution: Where's the Fire?

When Mayor Steve Adler announced his Music & Creative Ecosystem Omnibus Resolution, you could smell smoke from a wildfire. When musicians and artists told the Arts and Music commissions about the crises Austin creatives are facing, you could feel the flames. So, in the action plan just released by the city, where are the sirens and flashing lights?

To be fair, the executive summary that introduces the 68-page document released on Monday refers to the "urgency to identify strategies to support our local artists and musicians," and that term is echoed in a few sections outlining the plan's 10 individual recommendations. But the document as a whole does little to assure the reader – especially the reader who's trying to survive in Austin's music and creative ecosystem right now – that this is the city government racing to the burning house to douse the flames. As Chronicle Music writer Kevin Curtin noted in his initial analysis of the report, the text is rife with "governmental gobbledygook" that makes it "difficult to interpret intent" and diffuses the sense of urgency. Just the title of the document, "Music and Creative Ecosystem Stabilization Recommendations," undercuts the idea of an emergency situation: We're not saving anything, we're only stabilizing it.

As you wade through the specific recommendations, much of the language reads as provisional and tentative – much in the style of broad and somewhat nebulous mission statements – as if the city was talking through the various things it could do in some nonspecific future rather than stating, "Here's how we're going to fix this urgent problem in the next year." In some recommendations, the city wants to follow through on some worthwhile initiatives that it's already begun, such as inventories of creative spaces in the Affordable Space area, cultural tourism plan that it began developing with a 2-year grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the professional development program developed by Artist INC. That's all great, but the document isn't very assertive when it comes to private-sector development of new music and creative venues, which it wants to "encourage" and "support" but doesn't go into many details about, and it's even somewhat noncommittal about the city's own follow-through on some of the recommendations it's laid out, saying that many of them "will require significant stakeholder participation and support if they are to be implemented, as the City of Austin may not be in the best position or have the expertise to execute them effectively."

The parts of the Stabilization Recommendations that feel the most like an action plan have to do with the music side of the resolution more than the creative side. Curtin identified several of them in his post about the report and in his "Playback" column of July 1:
• the Agent of Change Principle, which would resolve sound disputes between venues and residential dwellings by holding the newer party responsible for managing their impact.
Entertainment License, which would streamline the permitting process for live music venues (and, one might imagine, comedy clubs, other live performance spaces, and movie theatres) with a single point of contact.
Live Music Venue Best Practice Guide, which would reward venues that meet or exceed established standards regarding code compliance, safety, and treatment of musicians with energy and mixed-beverage tax rebates, and extended load card hours.
Licensing Austin Music Project, which would motivate businesses to use Austin music in film, TV, commercials, and video games to increase income for local music makers.
ATXPORT, which would provide grants to local musicians, labels, and publishers that are ready to promote their work outside of Austin and provide networking opportunities with businesses in international markets.
• a city-run online radio station that only plays Austin music.

What you discover digging into the recommendations is that these are the ones that have the most clearly defined model programs in other cities, states, or countries that Austin can copy from. It suggests that people in the music community have already been working on bringing these initiatives to town for a while.

Of course, that still leaves the question of who will be responsible for actually setting up these programs in Austin, how much they will cost, and when they might go live. Each recommendation identifies "Implementation Leads" and "Potential Partners," the former being the entity or entities who spark the recommendations to life and the latter being any number of city departments, state agencies, federal or foreign governmental programs, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, or private businesses that might be interested in getting involved with making these ideas realities, but which haven't necessarily been approached yet and are currently under no obligation to help implement these recommendations.

For all but one or two of the recommendations, the city's Economic Development Department is identified as the Implementation Lead. Which means this one department will be shouldering most of the responsibility for bringing the mayor's plan to fruition. That's an awful lot for one department to take on, even considering that the guidelines specify the hiring of 11 new full-time employees to implement various initiatives. And will this one department be able to implement all these recommendations in a timely fashion?

That may be where the "action plan" is least encouraging. The urgency referred to in the document isn't reflected much in the timelines for the various recommendations. The most optimistic implementation dates are six months away; many cover a time span of as much as five years. And whether the time frame is short or long, virtually all involve assembling working groups and hiring consultants to research and talk about what to do, rather than actually acting. In other words, while discussions are taking place and decisions being made about how to preserve the music and creative ecosystem, there will be plenty of time for a local musician or artist to get a property tax bill that finally sends him or her packing, or for a Red River music club or Eastside theatre or art gallery to shut down.

Sure, getting changes to happen at the city is like turning an ocean liner; it won't happen quickly. But even so, the report comes across as a response to a common problem – say, repairing a pothole – and not a crisis affecting the sectors of the city that Austin has used as its face for 40 years. With the report rolling out just days before Salvage Vanguard Theater had to vacate its home of 10 years, it feels like more lip service to the importance of the live music and creative class in Austin. And it suggests we may be losing a lot more SVTs – and Holy Mountains and Tiny Park galleries – before anything gets done about it.

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More Music & Creative Ecosystem Stabilization Recommendations
Omnibus Resolution Report Arrives
Omnibus Resolution Report Arrives
Mayor’s plan to save Austin music takes shape

Kevin Curtin, June 27, 2016

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Music & Creative Ecosystem Stabilization Recommendations, Omnibus Resolution, Mayor Steve Adler, Economic Development Department, Music Commission, Arts Commission, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Holy Mountain, Tiny Park

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