Theaters, cinemas and live music venues were among the first establishments to close when the pandemic hit in late March. And while that may have seemed like a small inconvenience for the majority of us who simply switched to sitting on our comfy couches with Netflix, the shutdown was detrimental to the folks who run these places and those who perform in them.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was in Albany today to call on the federal government for assistance for these integral components of the arts community. He is pushing for support of the bipartisan “Save our Stages Act” (S. 4258, H.R. 7481). According to the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), when asked if the shutdown were to last six months or longer with no meaningful federal assistance, 90 percent of members said they would be forced to fold forever.
Forever. A future without in-person performing arts. For this theatre major, that’s unfathomable.
NIVA was formed at the onset of the COVID-19 shutdown and now represents more than 2,800 members in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. As of today, 147 U.S. senators and House members have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation, which is aimed at providing relief to independent live venues, promoters and festivals across the nation that have been shuttered since March with no revenue, high overhead, and no timeline for reopening.
The bill would create a new $10 billion Small Business Administration (SBA) program to provide grants of up to $12 million to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to help cover six months of operating expenses and offset the economic impact of COVID-19. These grants can be used for payroll costs, rent, mortgage, utilities, and personal protective equipment, among other needs.
The Capital Region is home to many such venues, including: The Palace Theatre, Proctors Theater, The Egg, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, just to name a few.
“Independent venues, like theaters and concert halls, are the beating heart of New York’s cultural life and a driving force in the Capital Region’s economy,” Schumer said. “These local businesses were among the first to shut down at the start of the pandemic, are struggling to stay afloat, and will be among the last to reopen. That’s why it’s so important to provide dedicated federal assistance to independent venues so when it is safe, we can gather again for music, comedy, theater and other live performances in venues that have been around for generations.”
Without this federal support, many venues are facing permanent closure, which would have a dramatic negative impact on neighborhoods across the country. According to NIVA, for every $1 spent on a ticket at small venues, a total of $12 in economic activity is generated within communities from restaurants, hotels, taxis, and retail establishments.
Unfortunately, the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) does not work for this industry, as the vast majority of employees have had to be furloughed. Venues had no revenue to speak of coming in while their doors were shut and couldn’t keep very many people on as a result. PPP loans were only fully forgivable if companies keep paying all their employees or rehire them within eight weeks of getting the loan.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the entire Arts & Entertainment industry displacing more than 12 million jobs and over $49 billion dollars for our economy,” Billy Piskutz, executive director of the Palace Theatre, said in a statement. “Our businesses were the first to shut down and will be the last to re-open. We are profoundly grateful for the support of Senator Schumer as he champions the #SaveOurStages effort. Our Arts & Entertainment venues and their employees are in critical need and are counting on as much support as possible so that one day soon we can all safely raise our curtains once again. The show must go on and without the help many venues will not make it!”
Schumer was joined today by Grammy Award-winning Music Director of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, David Alan Miller; Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan; local independent venue operators; and the International Alliance for Theatrical Stage Employees union.