The City of Austin Economic Development Department, in partnership with MJR Partners, is reimagining its Cultural Funding Program for arts, heritage, and music with an intentional focus on equity and inclusion, while more effectively promoting tourism to Austin, as well as the city’s convention and hotel industries. The Cultural Funding Program is funded through Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) proceeds from Austin’s convention and hotel industries.


Fiscal Year 2022 Proposed Programs



Watch this short informational video from the Cultural Arts DivisionRead a transcript of the arts informational video.

  • Nexus - Invests in creative public programming developed through community activation and collaboration between artists and such community-based entities as culturally specific groups, LGBTQIA and disability communities, parks, non-profits, and public housing. Grows the creative economy by prioritizing historically under-represented applicants who haven't yet received cultural funding through the City. 
  • Thrive - Promotes Austin’s diverse cultures to tourists by supporting the programs, operations, stability, growth, and leadership development of small to mid-sized African American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern, and Pacific Islander-led arts and cultural organizations that are significant contributors to the city’s creative vibrancy and heritage. 

The launch of the Elevate program is to be determined. For information on the proposed Nexus and Thrive programs please visit the Cultural Arts Funding page.



  • Heritage Preservation Grant- Promotes tourism through the preservation, restoration of historic buildings, or planning educational and marketing projects tied to a historic building site or district.  



  • Live Music Fund Event Program - Supports Austin’s professional music businesses & organizations and musicians & bands that produce and promote live and virtual shows that can be marketed to local audiences, visiting and potential tourists, and conventions delegates. ​​​
  • For information on music community engagement, visit the Speak Up Austin webpage for the Live Music Fund.
Cultural Funding Review Updates


June 2021

Cultural Funding Review Interim Report (PDF, 855 KB)

The Interim Report by MJR Partners captures work on the Cultural Funding Review, including stakeholder input, analysis, and recommendations for program development and improvements.

March 2021

Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) Funded Cultural and Heritage Preservation Grant Contracts Memo (PDF, 213 KB)

This memo includes an update on the current and future financial outlook for Hotel Occupancy Tax revenues and information on the status of current HOT Funded contracts and future program planning.

Community Meeting Recordings



December 12, 2020 - Building an Equitable Cultural Funding Review: Arts, Heritage, Music


October 7, 2020 - Building an Equitable Cultural Funding Review: Arts, Heritage, Music



Frequently Asked Questions

General Overview


Who does the Cultural Funding Review Impact?

  • Creative individuals, community groups, and organizations interested in pursuing project or organizational support through the City’s cultural funding programs. 
  • Tourists and residents that have an interest in the activities cultural funding programs support.  
  • Cultural groups, legacy businesses, and organizations working on community-centered cultural, heritage, and historic preservation projects.  
  • Performing musicians, live music venues, and music industry businesses that produce events.


We are in the middle of a pandemic, are changes appropriate right now?  

We understand that changes are hard at any time, and especially during a pandemic.  But these changes are made with equity in mind, helping to support those most impacted by the pandemic as well.  If we delay this process further, we would be perpetuating inequities that currently exist, maintaining a closed door to new applicants, and denying opportunity for us to make progress as an inclusive cultural community. 

Due to reductions in Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) projections, we expect to have significantly less money to award out as we have had in the past.  With that in mind, supporting more equitable distribution of the reduced amount of funds is an even more critical priority for the Cultural Funding Review Process and our new programs. 


How are you defining cultural organization?  

A cultural organization is a business established with the primary goal of preserving, producing, and/or promoting artistic expression, traditions, customs, or stories within creative or historic contexts. 


How are you defining racial equity? 

Throughout the Cultural Funding Review we have defined racial equity in keeping with the City of Austin’s Equity Statement: Racial equity is the condition when race no longer predicts a person's quality of life outcomes in our community. The City recognizes that race is the primary determinant of social equity, and therefore we begin the journey toward social equity with this definition. The City of Austin recognizes historical and structural disparities and a need for addressing these wrongs by critically transforming its institutions and creating a culture of equity. 


How will racial equity be prioritized and implemented in these new programs? 

To honor this commitment to racial equity, our programs will prioritize proposals that: 


  • Directly enhance cultural experiences for tourists and convention delegates, including projects that highlight underrepresented histories and narratives. 
  • Support the work of individuals and organizations from the Black/African American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+ and Disability communities and other historically under-represented and underserved communities. 
  • Sustain and grow Austin’s cultural infrastructure so that all may share in the economic and employment benefits of the heritage preservation and creative sectors. 


Can I apply to more than one Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT)-funded program with the City of Austin?  

Yes, organizations can apply for funding from the Heritage Tourism, Cultural Arts, and Music & Entertainment Divisions if eligible, but must apply with different proposals. Proposals must be for different scopes of work, and expenses can only be paid for once with grant funds. In the Cultural Arts Division Cultural Funding Program, applicants can only receive funding in one Cultural Funding program at any given time. Please see the Cultural Arts Division Questions section for more information. 


Will all musicians, live music venues, professional music organizations and music-focused nonprofit organizations now be directed to apply to the Music & Entertainment program? What will happen to music genre applicants who previously received funding through the Cultural Arts Division? 

Music discipline applicants will be empowered to choose the funding programs that best fit their scope of work and needs.  

The Cultural Arts Division’s funding programs will still be open to individual artists, groups, and organizations proposing collaborative music projects through Nexus, Elevate, and Thrive.  

We strongly encourage all music discipline applicants to read the separate program descriptions for both the Music & Entertainment and the Cultural Arts Divisions. Each funding program will have specific requirements and funding priorities. Staff are working on designing tools and materials that will help potential applicants best determine what funding opportunities might be the right fit for their body of work.  


How can members of the community share their feedback on the new program designs?  

You can submit your comments through our anonymous online comment box.  

If you have additional questions, the Cultural Funding team hosts Virtual Open Office hours on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, from 10 a.m.– 12 p.m. 

To directly contact a member of the Cultural Funding team, contact Jesus Pantel by email or by phone 512-974-9315, and he will route your question to the appropriate staff member.  

Arts - Cultural Arts Division Programs

*Update: Proposed programs for Fiscal Year 2022 are Nexus and Thrive. The launch of the Elevate program is to be determined.


Click on a category below to jump to that section:


Is Community Initiatives being replaced with Nexus, and Core being replaced with Elevate?  

That is correct. Nexus, Elevate, and Thrive will be the only Cultural Funding programs starting in FY22.  Nexus and Elevate will retain many of the positive elements of Community Initiatives and Core, but will improve on the areas that have historically created inequities within our funding model.   

Cultural Heritage Festivals program applicants will be able to apply for funding within these three new programs.   

Thrive is a new program that contains the key elements of Elevate, but with added investment and a longer funding cycle to build organizational stability.     


Can I apply to more than one Cultural Funding program? 

In the Cultural Arts Division Cultural Funding Program, applicants can only receive funding in one Cultural Funding program at any given time. However, the application process and timeline will be managed so that applicants can consider all of their available options. Eligible applications to the Thrive program that do not receive funding will be eligible for consideration under the Elevate program. The Cultural Funding team is working on developing systems to reduce or eliminate the need for duplicate applications. Applications that do not receive funding in the Elevate program can apply for the twice yearly Nexus cycle if they wish.  


With these new programs, is the maximum award amount $100,000?  

$100,000 is the anticipated maximum award amount in Elevate. The only program with an anticipated award amount above $100,000 is Thrive, because it would also fund additional capacity building activities for a two-year period. The maximum award amount in Nexus is going to be between $3,000 and $6,000, but please know that the final award amount for Nexus is still being discussed. 

However, as with any year, but especially in these uncertain economic times, all programs will only be funded to the extent that HOT funds received are able to accommodate the anticipated award amounts. 

In keeping with community feedback and our work in moving towards a more equity centered funding model, award amounts within these ranges will be primarily determined by how well the applicant’s proposal aligns with the funding purpose and priorities of each program and the score received.  

Our work in how awards will be determined for these programs is ongoing. Scoring methodologies and criteria are being examined closely.  For example, for the Elevate program, staff is currently researching best practices for reducing the harmful and inequitable barriers created when budget size is the prime factor in determining award size. More information about this can be found below in the specific questions about Elevate.  


How will the Cultural Funding staff handle the additional workload?  

We realize that contracting and payment issuance are taking place slower than in past years, which is due to the pressures of the pandemic and a large number of contracts for current staff to manage. The Cultural Arts Division (CAD) is remedying this in part by utilizing staff, both within the Economic Development Department (EDD) and in other City departments, to help review and process simpler aspects of the contracting process that are nonetheless time consuming.  Additionally, EDD is working with the City’s Office of Design & Delivery to look at ways to streamline the contracting process for various City departments: from CAD and EDD/Financing to Purchasing and Accounts Payable, and from Risk Management to Law, to benefit all contractors served through the City’s Cultural Funding programs. 


Are your new programs considering the implication of the tourism requirement?  

Our programs are funded through the maximum allowable percentage of the City of Austin’s portion of Hotel Occupancy Tax as authorized by the  State of Texas Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) Statute. This statute requires that our funding be used for the “the encouragement, promotion, improvement, and application of the arts” for the promotion of tourism to Austin. For this reason, all operational expenses paid for by HOT funds must be in service of programs and activities that are marketed and accessible to the public and tourists. That requirement will not change for any of our programs. 

However, the City recognizes that the local arts and cultural community is an extremely valuable asset in attracting tourists. Austinites are what make Austin an interesting and vibrant place. For that reason, we have prioritized funding a diverse pool of artists, organizations, and groups that elevate the City’s local cultural communities   and showcase our rich cultural tapestry to tourists. 

Nexus, Elevate, and Thrive will each have specific priorities, but these priorities seek to work holistically to invest in the different parts of the City’s cultural tourism economy in order to sustain and grow our vibrant and diverse cultural capital into the future. 


Do you have to be a non-profit in order to apply for Elevate, Thrive, or Nexus?  

Cultural organization non-profits may apply directly for funding. Creative businesses such as individual artists, art studios, galleries, and some performance spaces are also eligible. Fiscal Sponsorship will not be a requirement for Nexus or Elevate applications.  However, applicants may choose to work with a Fiscal Sponsor. 

For the Thrive program, we are currently focused on cultural organization non-profits for the first cohort of this program.  We are open to the possibility of other business structures in the future and will be reassessing as the planning progresses.  It is important for us to recognize the value of all cultural practitioners in our local creative ecosystem, and that not all produce work through the same business model. 


What if allowing for-profits to apply for funding leads to big businesses and companies taking advantage of funding that should go towards nonprofits and artists? 

We have been receiving great feedback and valid concerns from the community about this topic. We are also looking critically at this element of the program guidelines for Nexus and Elevate.  

The Cultural Arts Division recognizes that small businesses and individual artists who operate as sole-proprietors or businesses are an integral part of our cultural ecosystem. Many communities of color throughout Austin rely on local small-businesses and individual community organizers as important cornerstones for local culture and arts. “For profit” applicants will include individual artists, unincorporated artist groups and collectives, creative businesses like arts studios, galleries, independent music producers, bands, choreographers, filmmakers, and some community-centered festivals.  

For this reason, the Cultural Arts Division has often funded creative business entities that do not necessarily fit the non-profit model. After listening to feedback from our community over the past year and a half, in consultation with our partner Divisions, and under the guidance of MJR Partners, we have determined that opening some of our funding to applicants of different business structures is an important step towards equity.  

However, we also recognize that Nexus and Elevate seek to invest in individuals, organizations, and entities that are representative of and work in the best interest of the local arts and culture ecosystem. We also recognized the importance of financial need in our programs’ purposes. Financial need will be a strong consideration in our guidelines design and the panel process. We are reviewing how we define local small-business through standards set by our own Department and in keeping with the shared values of our partner Divisions.  

This issue will involve more work and discussion on the part of staff. We hope to have more specific updates on how it will be addressed through the guidelines, the application, and the peer panel process as planning progresses.  


Our organization works with artists of color and serves communities of color, but we are white-led. How does this impact my scoring or eligibility for different programs?  

Our team recognizes that racial makeup of an organization can vary at different points in the organization’s lifecycle and are currently working through how to best capture and recognize those nuances. However, we do not consider audience makeup as part of organizational makeup. Thrive is reserved for arts organizations that are led by and representative of communities of color in order to help them grow into more stable cultural institutions. 

We are also working with MJR partners to investigate potential non-monetary resources and support materials that will help white-led organizations deepen their own internal racial equity work and build greater diversity within their leadership. 


Are women considered as a diversity qualifier in your new programs?  

Intersectionality is incredibly important in racial equity work. Within communities of color, women, LGBTQIA+, and disability community members often experience even more acute challenges. We will be working closely with MJR partners to ensure that these intersectional communities are being closely considered in our application scoring rubric and receive focus in our training of peer panelists.   

In addition, we are working with MJR partners on non-monetary resources and materials that will help white-led organizations interested in committing to their own internal racial equity work. These resources will be available to women-serving organizations that wish to better serve women of color or women and gender non-binary individuals within the LGBTQIA+ and disability communities. 

It is the goal of the staff to reduce time spent on contract administration in order to better serve the cultural community as liaisons, through technical assistance, and forging critical connections between organizations with resources. This goal is achieved by reducing the number of contracts awarded and a reallocation of staff time towards these other needed avenues of professional support. 


What sorts of expenses are eligible for funding?  

Expenses that are incurred directly from implementing events and programs that are open to and marketed to tourists are eligible. In many cases, this will include a portion of administrative and operational expenses necessary to the production of public events and programs. However, each program is different, and applicants should look at the list of eligible and ineligible expenses in the guidelines for each corresponding program once they are released.    


Are educational programs eligible for funding?  

Currently, the HOT-funded Cultural Funding programs are not able to award funds for educational programs, unless the program culminates in an event that is open to and marketed to tourists. We are exploring how the City can remain invested in arts education activities. 


I know someone who is a good fit for the Cultural Funding programs. How can I put them in touch with staff? 

We encourage you to share information about our programs! The best way for new applicants to hear announcements is via our Facebook page and our Cultural Arts newsletter. You can also direct them to Jesus Pantel at or 512-974-9315. 

Fiscal Sponsorship

Why are fiscal sponsors not required anymore?  

The Cultural Arts Division recognizes that fiscal sponsorship is often a valuable asset for emerging artists and new organizations. We also recognize that not all applicants require a fiscal sponsor to apply for funding or execute their programming. In the interest of equity and empowering all applicants to determine their own needs and best use of funds, we have decided to make fiscal sponsorship optional for Nexus and Elevate. 

If an applicant finds support and benefits through a fiscal sponsor that they see as being of value to their work, that relationship is welcomed and will be supported through those programs.  

Fiscally sponsored applications will not be eligible for Thrive as that program is focused on non-profit organizations.  

Other Requirements

Do the events that funded applicants offer need to be free or can they be paid, ticketed events to qualify for these funds? 

Events are not required to be free in any of our funded programs. Ticket sales is one way in which many of our contractors raise needed earned revenue, and we support that work. However, in considering access by all audiences, it is important to consider affordable and free options and offerings whenever possible. 

Will these new programs have matching requirements?  

We realize that requiring matching funds is a way to ensure a more equally invested partnership between the City and the funded organization; however, it is also a barrier to equity for those contractors who find it difficult to match the City’s award amount. Because it is the program for entry level access for new, emerging, or less experienced contractors, Nexus is designed without a matching fund requirement. Elevate and Thrive matching requirements are yet to be determined, but we are considering how a match might be a benefit or a hardship for these program participants. More complete program information will be available soon. 

Program Specific

Elevate Program

In the Elevate Program, are you getting rid of Organizational Support?  

Our commitment to supporting organizations, artists, and businesses with operational expenses is not going away. The Elevate program does eliminate the distinction between Organizational Support and Project Support as funding sub-categories (from the previous Core program), but by removing this distinction, the Elevate program will now offer the same flexibility previously afforded in Organizational Support to all contractors.  

We recognize that this distinction between Organizational Support and Project Support was creating and perpetuating inequity by placing unnecessary boundaries around how funds could be used by organizations at various budget levels. The future Elevate program seeks to open access to the highest tier of funding to organizations who may have previously been shut-out from the Organizational Support category. Our data shows that many of our most racially diverse applicants were in the Project Support categories, which typically resulted in lower award amounts than those in the Organizational Support categories. It is essential that these applicants have access to the same opportunities afforded to the organizations that have historically received the majority of City funding.

The staff continues to work towards developing sub-categories that will support a more equitable panel process while removing the barriers to funding that were inequitably impacting organizations and artists of color in Austin.  


Why does the Elevate program have a funding cap of $100,000?  

In the past, only those in the Organizational Support program of Core were eligible for awards over $100,000,  about 22 out of 393 contracts. By transitioning to the new Elevate program and the new cap on the highest award amounts, the majority of former Core: Project Support applicants will now have access to potentially higher award amounts (depending on available HOT funds). The future of Elevate seeks to offer higher award amounts for applicants that align with program priorities and have been historically limited in funding due to inequitable division of HOT funds through the Organizational Support category.  

Specific tiers of award amounts are still being considered, but again we are determining those tiers through an equity lens. 

Again, Thrive is anticipated to be the only program with two-year awards that may potentially exceed $100,000. 


Is there consideration for a sub-tier approach to the Elevate program? An organization with $15K budget has very different challenges, needs and STRENGTHS vs an organization with $80K budget. 

That is an excellent observation and something the Cultural Funding staff is also taking into consideration as we draft maximum request amounts, the scoring rubric, and the award matrix. Our goal is to remove the barrier that budget size would restrict an applicant’s ability to apply for more impactful award amounts, but more work is needed to ensure we meet that goal.  


Thrive Program

Why is the Thrive program limited to ten awards when other programs do not have a limit? 

There are two reasons why Thrive has a limited number of contracts. We anticipate Elevate to fund the greatest number of applicants among the three programs, and thus, will need a larger proportion of the available overall HOT funds. While we want to support Thrive awardees, we also want to ensure that there is sufficient funding in Elevate, especially in light of the current economic impact to the cultural community. This means that there would be a smaller funding pool available for Thrive. Additionally, Thrive’s deliverables are tailored in a way that our other programs are not. It is a cohort-based program that requires significantly more staff time per contractor than Elevate contracts require. This individualized approach necessarily limits the number of contractors who can be served effectively in the cohort. 

These limits will be routinely evaluated by staff and may change in accordance with community need and available HOT funding. 


Can the Thrive program also be available to Social Business Enterprises?  

Great question about social enterprise. While we are currently focused on non-profits for the first cohort of this program, we are open to reassessing this in the future and will take your insight on this issue into consideration. 


What are the professional development offerings in the Thrive program?  

Professional development offerings will include a range of options, such as mentorship opportunities, workshops, and access to resources that directly meet the growth goals of the funded organization. The Cultural Funding team will be working with MJR Partners over the coming months to develop curriculum frameworks based on community feedback and industry standards. 

Heritage - Heritage Tourism Division Programs


What kind of designations are eligible?  

Historically designated properties eligible for grants include: 

  • City of Austin historic landmarks  
  • Properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places  
  • Recorded Texas Historic Landmark  
  • State Antiquities Landmark  
  • Properties within a Historic District (both local and National Register districts)  
  • Properties determined to be eligible for historic designation at the local, state, or federal level, including the East Austin Survey conducted by the Historic Preservation Office 


How do I know if my property is historically designated?  

A property can be historically designated at three levels: local, state and national. The Historic Preservation Office created a Historic Property Verification Guide, but applicants can confirm the designation status of a proposed project by contacting the Historic Preservation Office at 512-974-1686 or contacting us for assistance.  


Can partner organizations apply for a grant?  

Yes, partner organizations working collaboratively with the corresponding historic building are encouraged to apply.  


Are all of these programs funded through the hotel tax? Why do projects need to be located near convention center? Isn't that limiting? Why the tie to the Convention Center (other than HOT tax visitors issues), if the purpose is to address underrepresented communities?  

The programs highlighted in Building an Equitable Cultural Funding Review: Arts, Heritage and Music are funded by Hotel Occupancy Taxes. The funding must therefore comply with the requirements of Texas Tax Code 351.101. The state law requires that  the funding be used to promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry. It also requires the Heritage Grants to be awarded to projects that are either in the vicinity of the convention center, or in a location within the city reasonably likely to be visited by tourists. Prior project proposals have successfully gained grant funding by providing information \on tourism impact and hotel partnerships in other areas. 


Why are for-profit entities included in this?  

The Heritage Grant Working Group in their report to Council in 2018 identified both private and non-profit entities operating historic sites as being representative of the variety of historic locations operated in Austin that attract tourists. “The recommendation was to expand the eligible applicant pool rooted in the recognition that privately-owned historic buildings comprise an important part of Austin’s heritage tourism landscape.” This and other recommendations were given and implemented to increase access to Heritage Grants, including a $250,000 cap for capital projects in 2019. 


Why do planning and education projects have to be completed in one year? It can sometimes take longer than one year to get consultants under contract, carryout the project and wrap it up.  

A two-year completion period will be offered for all Heritage Preservation Grants, including Marketing, Educational, and Planning grants will have a two-year completion period.  


Is the Barton Springs Bathhouse considered near enough to the Convention Center? What is the max funding for educational projects?  

All historic and cultural sites that attract tourists are encouraged to apply for Heritage Grant consideration. For the Barton Springs Bathhouse, a Community Activated Park Project application would need to be submitted to the City’s Parks and Recreation Department for any potential grant proposals related to a city-owned historic facility. Grant awards vary, but the average funding for marketing, educational and planning projects is $61,000.  


How do we apply for scripting and production of oral history from a historically designated district?  

All project proposals are required to submit an online application during the grant cycle and provide information related to the heritage tourism impact, preservation impact, with project bids and proposed budget. In the example of an oral history project or a walking tour, project bids from potential consultants and/or historians, include but are not limited to, research and documentation, script writing, and voice-over or video talent utilized to produce content, are encouraged. 


Can the grant be used for collaborative efforts or projects?   

Yes, partner organizations working collaboratively with the corresponding historic building may apply. 

Music - Music & Entertainment Division Programs


What expenses are covered and not covered for Live Music Fund Event Program activities? 

Examples of allowable expenses include: Performance guarantees, venue/office rental and insurance, employee salaries, contractor pay, marketing collateral, advertising placements, supplies, and travel. 

Examples of unallowable expenses include: Payments supporting use of a private residence and expenses for projects outside of the 10-1 Austin voting districts or extraterritorial jurisdictions. 


Can I apply for funding as an individual musician separate from the bands I perform in? 

Professional Austin musicians who perform solo or as part of a local band may apply. However, only one application per band is allowed. 


How does the recently created Iconic Venue Fund and Austin Live Music Venue Preservation Fund fit with the Live Music Fund Event Program? 

The Live Music Fund is generated from Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue and does not come out of the Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors (SAVES) fund. SAVES programs were created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery effort and are separately funded through other City sources. 


Is it still the case that music is funded from a 2% increase in Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funding, separate from the general fund? 

All of the programs are funded through Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) revenue, as outlined in Texas State Statute under the categories of Arts and Historic Preservation. While the statute allows for use of HOT funding in these two categories (Arts and Historic Preservation), the City of Austin’s Budget Office organizes these monies into three separate funds for use by the Economic Development Department: Cultural Arts Fund, Live Music Fund, and Historic Preservation Fund. The Live Music Fund is sourced from the 2% increase to Austin’s Arts category of Hotel Occupancy Tax through the Austin Convention Center expansion, not the City’s General Fund.