Metro will not move forward in the near future with funding a proposal to provide small cash grants to musicians and music industry professionals out of work due to the pandemic.

The Artist Rights Alliance, in partnership with MusiCares, asked the city’s CARES Act oversight committee for $1 million for the microgrant program earlier this year.

Austin, another music industry city with a vibrant live music scene, funded a similar microgrant program earlier this year. MusiCares is the charitable arm of the Grammy’s.

The Nashville proposal would have given qualified applicants up to $1 million.

The Artist Rights Alliance learned last week that the city plans to spend its remaining CARES Act funds on “rent and mortgage assistance and small business relief.” Metro Finance Deputy Director Mary Jo Wiggins alerted the Artist Rights Alliance of the COVID-19 Financial Oversight Committee’s decision last week.

Earlier this year, the oversight committee approved emergency funds for music venues shuttered due to the pandemic. Wiggins said the committee’s proposal on how to spend the remaining funds will be sent to Metro Council soon and won’t include funding for the microgrant proposal.

  The devastating impact of the pandemic has highlighted that our creative class has no safety net. Over the last several years, we've struggled with the challenges of growth in regards to affordability for artists and small businesses and now it is compounded by the total collapse of touring and live performance income.   – Metro Councilmember Jeff Syracuse

I don’t suspect there will be  a change to that proposal unless a change comes at the federal level for additional funds,” Wiggins said in an email to the Artist Rights Alliance.

Artist Rights Alliance Grassroots and Education Co-Director Erin McAnally said that, while the organization is disappointed, the decision was not unexpected. McAnally said the Artist Rights Alliance has forwarded its proposal to Tennessee Department of Tourism Development Commissioner Mark Ezell to see if the microgrant proposal for Nashville could be broadened to cover the entire state. McAnally said the hope is the microgrant program could be funded by the state’s portion of its CARES Act funds. Because of its population size, Nashville qualified for a direct appropriation of $121 million from the CARES Act, though the funds must be spent by the end of the year. McAnally also said the organization is not abandoning the microgrants proposal, which she says would provide a vital lifeline for out-of-work musicians.

We do have an ask out with the state and are going to continue on that as we regroup and figure out next steps in terms of the city,” McAnally said. “We are certainly not giving up hope that if there is a new relief package, we can re-approach the city and will not be giving up the broader goal to encourage city leaders to invest more in this sector of the economy.”

The Artist Rights Alliance pitched the microgrant proposal because many music industry professionals slip through the cracks of government help offered so far, and because Nashville is an international music industry hub.

Under the gig economy, professional musicians, sound engineers, songwriters and other professionals have been able to carve out livings in recent years by cobbling together multiple jobs. But that hodge-podge of gigs made it difficult for creative professionals to meet the documentation requirements for some of the government safety net programs offered during the pandemic. Gov. Bill Lee’s administration, for instance, has spent much of its CARES Act money helping small businesses, but a professional musician likely isn’t incorporated in such a way to be eligible directly for that money. Lee has criticized Nashville Mayor John Cooper for not spending more of the city’s CARES Act money on helping the private sector.

A spokesman for Ezell said the commissioner has received a number of proposals requesting CARES Act money and forwarded those requests to the state’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group.

Spokeswoman Amanda Murphy said the state tourism department also sought to help the industry by providing CARES Act money to local tourism marketing groups, like the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp.

Musicians Daniel Rice and Ashley Caudill on the front porch of their Goodlettsville house. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Musicians Daniel Rice and Ashley Caudill on the front porch of their Goodlettsville house. The pair have been out of work most of the year. (Photo: John Partipilo)

“Those funds were intended to remarket safe travel, and used at the discretion of the communities,” Murphy said.

Metro Councilman Jeff Syracuse, who works in the music industry in his day job and has been a vocal advocate for helping the sector that has largely been closed down by the pandemic, said he was disappointed the microgrant program won’t be funded in the short term.

“The devastating impact of the pandemic has highlighted that our creative class has no safety net,” Syracuse said. “Over the last several years, we’ve struggled with the challenges of growth in regards to affordability for artists and small businesses, and now it is compounded by the total collapse of touring and live performance income.

“This highlights how absolutely critical it is that we cannot take for granted those that are responsible for making us the global capital of music in the world. As we roll out a vaccine and rebuild our creative economy, Nashville must re-engage the Music City Music Council and our partners to create safety net programs to ensure we treat our songwriters, musicians and small businesses with the same focus and reverence we put into capitalizing on their talents and skills to brand our city.”

The Music City Music Council was created by former Mayor Karl Dean to provide partnership between Metro and the music industry.

A spokesman for Lee did not respond to an email seeking comment on whether the governor is interested in a microgrant proposal to help music industry professionals and musicians.