Keeping Austin Music Alive and Well


Austin's music scene—and our braggin’ rights as Live Music Capital of the World—wouldn't exist without our local musicians. But when Grammy Award winner Ray Benson first came up with the idea to help low-income, uninsured musicians get access to health care, it was a fairly radical notion—no one place except New Orleans had tried.

 “Live music brings over $2 billion into the Austin economy,” says Reenie Collins, executive director of the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM). Yet 80 percent of local musicians earn less than $18,000 a year.  Even against the shifting backdrop of the Affordable Care Act, many struggle with medical expenses. “One of the things that HAAM does—that I think the city sometimes forgets—is to take care of that cultural treasure.”

Collins credits Austin Community Foundation with helping launch the successful organization in 2000. “Our founder Robin Shivers knew that we needed to have our own 501(c)(3) [nonprofit status],” she says. “But we didn't have the wherewithal or money to do that. We relied on the expertise of Austin Community Foundation.”

The Foundation provided fiscal sponsorship to allow a charitable venture like HAAM to operate under the Foundation’s legal and tax status. This “umbrella” partnership allows projects to leverage the Foundation’s robust back-office infrastructure and technical assistance to support their efforts. Project leaders can focus on implementing mission-based programs and services while the Foundation team takes care of the rest.

With the help of Seton Healthcare, St. David’s Foundation, the SIMS Foundation, and other healthcare providers HAAM assists qualified local musicians to secure medical, dental, vision, hearing, and mental health care. Licensed social workers help members navigate the healthcare system to manage complicated illnesses like cancer, Hepatitis C, and diabetes. It also provides free screenings along with prevention and wellness services.

Today HAAM is a self-sustaining nonprofit. Together, musicians and business and community leaders continue to make HAAM’s slogan a reality: “Keeping music alive & well in Austin.”  

—Elaine Robbins


More Images of from HAAM