‘It will be like dominoes.’ Music venues shuttered by pandemic push Congress to ‘Save Our Stages’ with federal funding

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Merriweather Post Pavilion. Image via Facebook.

With coronavirus metrics on the rise across the U.S., businesses are seeing restrictions reinstated.

But for many in the entertainment sector, in-person operations have been halted since the pandemic began. Unable to open their doors for music concerts and other events, entertainment venues are calling on federal leaders to provide the emergency coronavirus relief that they need to stay afloat.

The U.S. House of Representatives in October passed the Save Our Stages Act as part of a more expansive coronavirus relief package, the $2.2 trillion Heroes Act.

But with the U.S. Senate at a stalemate with the larger package, the Save Our Stages Act and the venues it would support have been left in limbo.

The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) was founded in April to lobby Congress for relief. They now have 3,000 members in every state and Washington, D.C.

NIVA has been encouraging music venue workers, patrons and other people to contact their congressional representatives to urge them to pass a relief package that includes funding for entertainment venues.

So far, people have used saveourstages.com to send more than 2 million emails to Congress, said Audrey Fix Schaefer, the communications director for NIVA as well as I.M.P., the production and promotion company that oversees Merriweather Post Pavilion and other venues.

Hundreds of independent venues have already gone under, and that number could grow much larger over the next few months, Schaefer said.

A few months ago, Schaefer said NIVA surveyed its members to see how many more months they could last with the cash they had on hand before closing forever if they did not receive government support. About 90% of respondents said they would have to shut down after a couple of months.

Schaefer said most venue owners “totally understand” that they have to stay closed “for the greater good” of people’s health. But she said the federal government still needs to keep up their end of the bargain by providing relief to those businesses.

“We’re being hung out to dry,” she said.

Entertainment venues cannot adapt to the pandemic in the same ways that other businesses have, Schaefer said.

“There’s no takeout and delivery of the concert experience like you can do with a restaurant,” she said. “There’s no ordering it online like a shirt from your favorite retail store. You have to come into a room, which is the exact thing that everybody’s telling us you shouldn’t be doing right now.”

Some venues have gotten creative with ways to continue showcasing music, such as An die Musik and Keystone Korner, who have broadcast shows from their clubs.

While Schaefer applauded those efforts to think outside of the box, she said such adaptations are not sustainable for the long run.

“There is no amount of live streaming or drive in concerts that is going to save a venue,” she said. “Those are grains of sand when you need two buckets of sand … We need this emergency relief.”

Music venues provide overwhelming benefits to the communities they are part of, Schaefer said.

Schaefer cited a 2019 study conducted by the Chicago Loop Alliance as evidence for how arts venues can influence local economies. That study found that for every $1 spent on admission to an arts organization in the Chicago Loop — the central business district in downtown Chicago — $12 was generated in total economic impact.

“When you come to see a show, you’ll grab dinner with your friends before,” Schaefer said. “Oftentimes, you’ll go across the street to the pub and have a drink and talk about it afterward.”

Likewise, the loss of a music venue could have a wide ripple effect on local economies, Schaefer said.

“When an independent venue goes under, all those businesses that were there because we were there, they suffer,” she said. “It will be like dominoes.”

Schaefer added that touring artists rely on music venues for places to play and reach new audiences.

“They need us to be able to be here when the world opens up again,” she said. “The stars don’t start in stadiums; they start in our venues. They grow and develop an audience, and then they build up to bigger places.”

Schaefer said reaching out to your congressional representative is a quick, easy and costless way to support music venues right now.

“They can add their name and send an email to their elected officials to let them know that they care about this, either because they love concerts or they love their community and don’t want it to lose a contributing member like their independent venue.”

Marcus Dieterle


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