Austin, Texas, a city known for its live performances, is seeing its local music scene bounce back with the reopening of its major music venues.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, live music shows like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits Music Festival were cancelled that year due to quarantining measures.
Musicians reliant on profits from live shows have not fully recovered from the financial impact of the pandemic. To aid them further, Austin City Council approved a $25 million fund in May 2021 to assist the city’s cultural institutions, with $10 million for musicians.
“Austin’s arts and music sector is such a vital part of the local economy and culture,” City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said. “Because COVID-19 impacted so many of our musicians, it’s important that our funds help serve and revitalize our community.”
However, with the COVID-19 vaccine widely available and Gov. Greg Abbot’s decision to lift business restrictions, music venues around Austin opened back up in late May 2021. For example, the Continental Club and Saxon Pub Musicians, two of Austin’s most iconic venues, have reopened, and many in Austin’s Red River Cultural District will follow.
Part of the $25 million fund is sourced from President Joe Biden’s 2021 American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion financial stimulus package passed in response to the pandemic, which included giving $60 billion to counties spread across America. Local organizations and nonprofits are also chipping in — many of them supporting the city’s arts and music scene through donations from social media. Austin Creative Alliance is one of the most prominent groups, raising nearly $150,000 for local artists. The CEO of the nonprofit, John Riedie, is dedicated to continuing the ACA’s goal of supporting local Austin artists and art projects.
“Before, artists could meet and help each other out through collaborative projects, events, or donations.” Riedie said. “Those same artists are now struggling through COVID-19, and although it’s improved for many of them, it’s still our utmost responsibility to aid them through this time of need.”
Other financial aid is available for Austin musicians to cushion the impact. The Austin Creative Worker Relief Grant provides $2,000 to artists for their everyday expenses, such as groceries and rent.
Music venues and live shows were also subject to the economic burden. After the cancellation of SXSW 2020, it looked like the festival was becoming a casualty of the pandemic. Half of its stock was bought out by P-MRC Holdings LLC in order to recuperate the costs, and it laid off a third of its workers.
In 2021, its online festival, which ran from March 16 – 20, was able to make up for the previous year. Many labelled it a success for delivering all of its presentations and events as promised, and SXSW 2022 is projected by organizers to be in-person.
“South By Southwest dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals,” senior content marketing manager for SXSW Jordan Roberts said in a post announcing SXSW 2021. In another announcement for SXSW 2022, she said “We at SXSW are hopeful that once people feel it’s safe enough to return to what will be the new normal of life, there will be a real enthusiasm for getting back to the things that brought them joy or opportunity.”