Three consultants recruited to fix city’s arts, music funding program

Photo by John Flynn

Tuesday, November 7, 2023 By Chad Swiatecki

Amid criticism of a new funding scheme for artists and musicians, the Department of Economic Development has hired three outside consultants to study and advise on how to improve their performance.

EDD Director Sylnovia Holt-Rabb issued a memo last week detailing plans to improve the applicant experience for the new program after complaints of slow payments, poor communication and The application process is difficult to navigate. The Live Music Fund and Elevate funding scheme for artists have come under criticism from the Music Council and Arts Council in recent weeks, with Holt-Rabb vowing to rectify the issues before the next round of funding begins.

The department has hired technology consulting firm Gartner to improve the application process and assess EDD’s overall technology needs. Two Austin-based groups have also been hired: Snap Management will be responsible for organizational development within the EDD, and Measure Austin will study the impact of the grant program on the community.

Gartner expects to complete its work by the end of the year, while Measure Austin expects to complete its community analysis this spring. Snap Management’s organizational analysis has not set an exact timeline, but the memo says “the goal is to complete all recommendations by spring 2024.”

The memo did not detail the fees for the three consultants. The Live Music Fund and three arts grant programs (Thrive, Elevate and Nexus) received a combined $15 million in funding from the city’s hotel occupancy tax revenue.

The memo explains the multi-year process to create the Live Music Fund and reform the arts and culture funding program with an equity-first model, while acknowledging the complaints the changes have caused. Issues identified include poor user experience on the application portal, insufficient Spanish language support, too long application process, unclear details of the applicant evaluation process, inefficient grant cycle timing, unclear eligibility guidelines, lack of clarity on grantee activities There were inconsistent expectations or creative work, as well as poor communication with the Dragon Center for the Performing Arts, which was hired to handle some of the administrative steps in the grant process.

As criticism of these programs continues to grow, the Long Center recently created an explanatory webpage detailing the steps it takes and does not control the projects it is hired to fund.

Over the past two months, grant recipients from the Live Music Fund and Elevate programs have alleged that the EDD process was mishandled to the point that some events or programs were in danger of being canceled due to a lack of funding. The problem of slow payments is exacerbated by a lack of communication from grant administrators about next steps once expected payments are not made.

At a recent Arts Council meeting, EDD staff said the delay was due to a late revision of the Long Center contract by the city’s purchasing department. The contract change halted all grant work, but payments were eventually made to all recipients who submitted required documentation and signed contracts.

In September, the advocacy group Austin Texas Musicians presented the results of a survey of its members to the music commission, which revealed widespread dissatisfaction with the Live Music Fund, which was authorized by the City Council in 2019 but took It only started in the past four years.

Early responses to the ATM inquiry included comments from applicants that the funding program appeared to be designed to benefit event and concert promoters rather than musicians hoping for help with live bookings. Other comments criticized the need for detailed financial plans or the level of funding available for documenting projects or other non-event applications.

The organization plans to present its findings in more detail at Monday’s music committee meeting.

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