AUSTIN, TX- After being denied funding through the City of Austin Cultural Arts department’s new Thrive Grant, Rancho Alegre, a small Austin 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is attempting a “Hail Mary” to raise enough funds to present this year’s Rancho Alegre Conjunto Music Festival (RACMF), scheduled for the weekend of April 28. Rancho Alegre is attempting to raise $35,000 by the end of AmplifyATX, Austin’s annual day of giving, to decide the fate of this year’s RACMF.
“We’re heartbroken, confused, and angry,” says Communications Director Piper LeMoine. “Conjunto music has a rich history in Austin, and we’re Austin’s only big Conjunto event now. For the City to deny us funding for this homegrown, Texas cultural music is shocking. Especially for a festival that is free admission.”
“We’ve never been denied funding before through the previous Cultural Arts grant programs, so we were really surprised and figured there must have been a mistake. We appealed the funding decision, and the appeal was denied as well. We also contacted various elected officials, and despite their best efforts which we really appreciate, there was nothing they could do. We met with the directors of the Economic Development Department, who listened to us plead our case, and ultimately told us there was nothing they could do either.” said LeMoine.
The Thrive Grant is part of an effort to restructure the cultural funding grant programs that many local nonprofits have relied on for many years. The grant focused on the issue of cultural erasure and, according to the department website, “provides focused investment to sustain and grow arts organizations that are deeply rooted in and reflective of Austin’s diverse cultures. Recipients will use their funds for arts activities open to and marketed to tourists.”
Conjunto music, with its bright accordion melodies and thumping rhythm section, is historically working-class roots music with beginnings deep in the Rio Grande Valley. Conjunto is the traditional root of Tejano music, much like how Blues is to Rock. In Austin, Conjunto was played in every little cantina on East 6th Street as well as in dancehalls on the outskirts of town and has been a staple at family gatherings for generations. Conjunto legend Johnny Degollado has long been Austin’s biggest champion of the genre, hosting his Austin Conjunto Festival for over 30 years at Fiesta Gardens around Cinco de Mayo – the open-air pavilion was named after him.
Rancho Alegre has presented the RACMF since 2012, with its first three years at the Moose Lodge in East Austin. After outgrowing the Moose Lodge, the grassroots volunteer-driven 501(c)(3) nonprofit made the festival free admission and found a new home in 2017 at Austin live music icon Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater. After being shut down in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the RACMF returned with a vengeance in 2022, with its biggest crowds ever. Over the course of seven festivals, the RACMF has brought over 80 different groups to Austin from all over the state.
“Now that Johnny Degollado has retired from presenting his festival, we are Austin’s only big Conjunto event. Without funding, Austin, widely known as the Live Music Capital of the World, with dozens of festivals of all kinds, won’t have a Conjunto festival. The sad irony is that this grant was intended to alleviate the issue of cultural erasure, but by not funding it, it is actively participating in cultural erasure,” added LeMoine. “So our only choice is to crowdsource the festival through appealing to individuals and businesses from now through the end of AmplifyATX. If someone donates to us, and we don’t meet our fundraising goal and have to cancel the festival, we’ll refund their money. We don’t have any paid staff and very little overhead, so any fundraising we do goes directly to our projects and events.”
AmplifyATX is a two-day giving marathon presented by I Live Here I Give Here, which raises millions of dollars for a wide variety of nonprofit organizations in the Austin area and features generous matching gifts from various corporations in addition to individual giving. Rancho Alegre has participated in the event since 2019, and this year means even more to the organization.
“If we can’t raise these funds by March 2, we will, unfortunately, have to cancel. We want to give the venues who generously agreed to host us (Central Machine Works, GiddyUps, and Stubb’s) enough time to re-book those dates. We are hoping with the visibility through AmplifyATX that we’ll reach someone, some company, or a group of someone, who thinks our festival is as valuable to the community as we know it is.”
Rancho Alegre is accepting donations on their website at ranchoalegre.org and their AmplifyATX campaign page at amplifyatx.org/organizations/ranchoalegre.
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