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Artist grant program offers monthly payments to a handful of Rochester musicians

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A new grassroots organization dedicated to preserving Rochester's music scene is launching a grant program for independent artists.

The Local Sound Collaborative started taking applications on Friday for a pilot program that will award monthly payments of $200 to five local musicians for one year.

"We're also accepting applications from folks who might be sound engineers or booking agents — people who give back to the music community in some way," said the group's director, Ray Mahar.

The collaborative was formed in April in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on musicians' livelihoods when public gatherings were halted. The group also aims to address what Mahar calls a longtime disparity of financial opportunity in the arts.

He acknowledges that the $200 monthly stipend won't make anyone rich. The hope, he said, is that the regular payments will serve as another tool to increase the arts' presence in Rochester.

Based on the Universal Basic Income model, recipients will be able to spend the money however they want, whether it's to help pay for studio rental fees, sound equipment or other regular costs.

"If there's people in town that need to be able to pay their grocery bills and need to be able to pay their medical bills, and this helps cover that costs ... if it enables them to have better emotional physical well-being, then I think it's doing its job," Mahar said.

He said the grant program will be funded through individual donations and contributions from local businesses that recognize the value of live music.

A kickoff fundraiser is scheduled on Oct. 3 at Three Heads Brewing, 186 Atlantic Ave.

The collaborative is trusting that applicants for the grants will have some financial need, but they won't have to divulge details about their income.

"We need to make as few hoops for people to jump through as possible," Mahar explained, "because the more hoops we put up and the more barriers there are, the more folks we're going to lose who are probably really great, ideal candidates."

Three of the grants will be awarded to musicians of color.

Mahar said they hope to expand the grant program next year, but will first survey the initial recipients before deciding whether to increase the number of grants or the amount of the monthly payments.

If enough funds are raised, he said they would consider doing both.

In terms of measuring the program's success, Mahar said it will look different for each artist, whether they are touring performers, music educators or music therapy professionals.

"If we see impact stories of how they worked with youth throughout the year, or stories that we hear about them on the road and shows they played and new cities they traveled to ... if we see that wide variety of success, then we've done our job."

The program is accepting applications until Sept. 1. The first payments will be issued on Dec. 1.

In order to qualify for the program, applicants must be 18 or older, live in the greater Rochester area and identify as a member, worker and/or participant within the local music community.

Donations to the Local Sound Collaborative are not tax-deductible because the organization has not yet received its 501 (c) 3 status as a nonprofit organization.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.