Thursday, November 27, 2008

Austin fights to keep reputation as 'live music capital'

From the Houston Chronicle:

Today, Austin is defined as much by its high-tech industry as its live music scene, and some say the once laid-back college town is in danger of losing its stage presence. That's why city leaders are welcoming a plan to promote Austin's rhythmic heritage, ease the struggles of performing artists and make the town a true music incubator.

"We're kind of at this pinnacle moment, where we can either continue the status quo and watch a dilution of the music scene, or we can value it and recognize that it's part of the fabric of who we are as a city," says Paul Oveisi, an Austin club owner who helped compile a recent series of recommendations about promoting the live music scene.

The Austin music task force Oveisi heads up is now pushing the creation of a city music department, the development of more music venues, an aggressive marketing campaign and incentives designed to lure music industry components such as publishing houses, managers, record labels and digital distributors.


"It's tough when your take home pay is a hundred bucks and 20 of it is going to pay for the valet guy who parked your car, or 15 of it is going to pay the parking ticket," said Brandon Aghamalian, one of the 15 task force panelists. Their report recommends that the city give parking vouchers to "certified musicians" in entertainment districts and create loading and unloading areas specifically reserved for them.

It also urges the city to pool public and private funds to help provide affordable housing and bolster health care services for performers, including the possible creation of a musician-only health clinic similar to the one in New Orleans.

More here.

So this really burns me up. Not because Austin and New Orleans are cities that greatly value and promote their local arts scenes. Rather, it makes me angry because my hometown, Houston, does not promote its local arts scenes. When Houston thinks of spending money on the arts it means trucking in talent from New York and elsewhere to work and perform in big huge institutional settings. It means ignoring the countless great writers, musicians, actors, painters, and on and on, produced by Houston on a regular basis--it means that all these great Houstonians either move to other cities who better value their work, or stay at home and labor in obscurity.

My buddy Mike, a musician and actor over at this is not a compliment, has observed on more than one occasion that the situation in the Bayou City gives its music scene, at least, a special sort of independence and autonomy not enjoyed by musicians in bigger scenes. This much is true: in Austin ya gotta play blues, country, or some kind of roots hybrid to achieve acclaim; similar pigeonholing in New Orleans, not much acoustic music here for instance. But it continues to piss me off that so many great people come out of my hometown who have to leave or struggle alone. It pisses me off that the city itself seems not to give a shit about the fabulous culture it produces.

It really wouldn't be so difficult or expensive to divert big institutional arts money that the city controls toward the home team. Why the fuck don't they do that?