RED RIVER CULTURAL DISTRICT
The Red River Cultural District (RRCD) is a cultural tourism destination and entertainment district located in downtown Austin, Texas.
The Austin City Council approved a resolution creating the district in 2013, followed by the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) designating the area in 2020 as one of the state’s few formally recognized cultural districts. As a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the RRCD is managed by the Red River Merchants’ Association, which was first organized to preserve cultural tourism and later received its letter of determination in 2017.
Location Description & Boundaries
As of February 2021, the district has expanded considerably since its inception with current designated boundaries including 4th Street to the South; 15th Street to the North; and Interstate 35 (LINK) to the East; as well as Neches Street but as far as Trinity Street to the West.
Formation & City of Austin Resolution
With rising issues relating to gentrification and population growth, various local organizations in Austin began to present downtown development plans that specifically called for the preservation of the city’s iconic music industry. Of note, the Downtown Austin Plan (2011) called for the preservation of the live music section of Red River, followed by the Imagine Austin Plan (2012) that directed city leaders to further explore opportunities intended to help support the local live music scene.
Shortly thereafter, the City of Austin’s Music Commission formally requested that the City Council create the RRCD as outlined by the Texas Commission of the Arts. The Austin City Council approved a resolution formally creating the new district on October 17, 2013, by a unanimous 7-0 vote. As a world-renown area with a decades-long tradition and a unique historic, economic, and cultural heritage, the area was attributed in the resolution as having “significantly contributed to Austin’s credibility as one of the world’s premier creative cities”.
Formalizing the space as a cultural district also provided geographic boundaries for specific City-level policy actions in Austin. RRCD then began targeting specific improvements that support the preservation and growth of Austin’s arts and music-based industries, such as venue preservation, physical infrastructure, traffic, parking, and more.
The initial district boundaries as designated by the City of Austin in 2013 were the 600-900 blocks of Red River Street.
Red River Merchant’s Association
The RRCD is currently managed by the Red River Merchants’ Association (RRMA), a coalition of over forty local small businesses within the district – including live music venues, food, hospitality, lodgings, lifestyle and entertainment businesses, as well as other private and nonprofit entities.
The RRMA was officially chartered in February 2016 through the Souly Austin program with the purpose of engaging stakeholders and government officials to focus on improving the district’s conditions to create a more pedestrian-friendly experience that attracts patrons. Souly Austin is a place-based economic development program from the City of Austin that is focused on creating and retaining strong, vibrant, culturally rich, and diverse neighborhood business districts throughout Austin.
The RRMA as a team is regularly engaged on policy changes, infrastructure investment and improvements, and community advocacy. Notable achievements and developments from the RRMA include the creation of Hot Summer Nights Festival and district-wide management of Free Week (2017), Safer Venues Fest (2019), a ULI RRCD Tap Report (2017), extended hours pilot program (2017, 2018), and the hiring of executive director (2018).
The RRMA has also led efforts to help secure other various city-funded improvements to both visual aesthetic and physical infrastructure across the district – including trash cans, street banners, community murals, an alley-closure and an RRCD neon sign. For instance, Austin City Council designated $1.3 million in August 2019 to be used for RRCD improvements including the installation of new landscaping and sidewalk repairs beginning in early 2021.
Other notable efforts from the RRMA include co-authoring several City of Austin policy recommendations, as well as local advocacy that informed outcomes for disaster relief funding for live music venues, local musicians, and cultural tourism workers in Austin:
- SOS Act/Shuttered Venue Operators Grants // $15B (through NIVA)
- Austin SAVES Grants: Music Venue Preservation // $5M
- Austin SAVES Grants: Legacy Businesses // $5M
- Live Music Fund (from HOT taxes) // ~$3.4M (changes/renews annually)
- Austin Creative Worker Relief Fund // $3.3M
- Austin Musician Disaster Relief Fund // $1.5M
- Austin Creative Space Disaster Relief Fund // $988k
State Cultural District Designation
On September 3, 2020, The Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) approved the designation of the Red River Cultural District in Austin. Official designation allows the RRCD to be eligible to apply for Cultural District Project funding through the TCA.
According to the TCA, Cultural districts are special zones that harness the power of cultural resources to stimulate economic development and community revitalization. RRCD and other cultural districts in Texas often act as a focal point for generating business, attracting tourists, stimulating cultural development, and fostering civic pride.
Economy, Culture & Tourism
The RRCD is the home of Austin’s single largest concentration of live music venues, which in turn provides a source of consistent creative and financial support and employment for local workers and touring musicians alike. The area also consistently serves as an incubator for the local music industry, “where many of our songwriters and musicians make their debuts” – pipelining artists careers from smaller to larger stages and audiences, according to the 2014 White Paper from Austin Music People.
As a direct result of its state-designation in 2020, the RRCD and the businesses within the area are now considered marketable tourism assets that help to highlight the distinct identity of the Austin community while encouraging in-state, out-of-state, and international visitors. As one of the state’s few official cultural districts, the RRCD acts as a special zone that harnesses the power of cultural resources to stimulate economic development and community revitalization. Over time, the RRCD has become a focal point for generating local business, attracting tourists, stimulating cultural development, and fostering civic pride.
SXSW 2014 & SXSW CARES FUND
Following a tragic car crash that took place within the RRCD during SXSW on March 13, 2014 that ultimately killed four and injured dozens, a special fund was created by SXSW, Mohawk, and the Austin Community Foundation in support of the victims. The fund raised $20,000 in donations less than 24 hours after it was established, and in total raised over $160,000.
SXSW 2020 & Banding Together ATX
Banding Together ATX is a charitable grant program created in March 2021 after the festival cancellation and forced closures of live music venues due to the pandemic. The philanthropic initiative focuses on addressing food insecurity for low-income, under- and unemployed music, service and hospitality workers in the Greater Austin area. Austin residents working in the following industries who were unemployed as a direct result of COVID-19 were eligible to apply for the funds: music venue, musician, music marketing/photography/content, bar, event production/activations, food & beverage, hotel, and hospitality.
As of 2021, the emergency grant relief program had donated over $225,000 across 3,000 individual grants to date.
Annual Events & Music Festivals
RRCD presents four annual district-wide live music programs including Safer Venues Fest; Oktoberfest; Free Week; and Hot Summer Nights. The latter two are free all-ages multi-genre music festivals that provide additional revenue to local musicians and staff during what are typically considered slow seasons in the music touring industry.
Popular events held annually in the RRCD include (alphabetical order):
- Austin City Limits Music Festival Aftershows (LINK)
- Free Week
- German-Texan Heritage Society’s Maifest & Christmas Market
- Hot Luck Festival
- Hot Summer Nights
- Levitation (LINK)
- Oblivion Access (formerly known as Austin Terror Fest)
- Safer Venues Fest
- South by Southwest (LINK)
- University of Texas at Austin’s Longhorn City Limits
- Waterloo Greenway Conservancy’s Creek Show