COVID-19 has put most of what we used to consider normality to a halt. Bars, restaurants, offices, clubs, hair salons – nobody has been left unaffected, but perhaps no other industry has felt quite the magnitude of the pandemic as the music industry.
The venues were among the first businesses to close and, if the timeline continues the way officials say it will, they’re likely to be the very last to open. From politicians to medical experts, nobody is willing or able to say when things might return to normal. Financial help has been sporadic, and the money given out was never meant to last as long as it has needed to. The future of entertainment across not only the United States but the entire world is uncertain at best. Now, NIVA is taking matters into their own hands and asking Washington for a lifeline.
NIVA is the National Independent Venue Association, a group of over 1,000 independent venues and promoters spanning all 50 states. Their mission, according to the official Save Our Stages website, is “to preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters throughout the United States,” and time, they say, is running out. There is no end date in sight and if the venue doesn’t have an in-house bar or restaurant, they currently have no real source of income to pay employees and rent.
They’re calling for Congress to pass the Save Our Stages (SOS) Act, an act that could provide $10 billion dollars in grants and potentially save the future of live music as we know it.
There are 3 key points in the act:
- Provide long term assistance for shuttered businesses. That is, assistance for indefinitely closed businesses who have no revenue and no timeline for re-opening. The loan program could potentially provide 6 months of payroll, benefits, and operating/necessary expenses.
- Relief through tax credits. Under the ENCORES Act, this could allow for venues to receive credit for lost ticket sales and canceled events. It also includes a tax credit for rent/mortgages, employee retention, and safe workplace incentives.
- Continue unemployment insurance benefits. This is particularly important, as it would include contract workers and artists alongside salaried employees.
Support from officials is growing and a number of A-list musicians have cosigned, but with each passing day, the stakes get a little bit higher. Even passing the act doesn’t necessarily guarantee safety, as venues and their promoters need the green-light to begin booking performances, which usually happens months – sometimes a year – beforehand. See the dilemma? Artists can’t schedule tours without knowing whether or not they’ll have a place to perform, and the venues can’t open their doors unless they know they have artists coming in.
What would a world without independent venues look like? Most musicians get their start, if not through school or a music program, then through participation in their local music scene. Starting small, working your way up, and becoming a part of a community thoroughly dedicated to the preservation of local music and art is a tradition amongst bands and solo artists alike.
Without independent venues, the definition of the art community would change fundamentally.
It’s not just the musicians who would be left without potential income and somewhere to go – where would young visual artists showcase their work? Where would the labels find new talent? Where would all of the budding promoters and starry-eyed fans find their homes away from home?
Of course, new venues will eventually pop up, but why not put in the work to save the places and people who have propped up their local musicians for years? Many of these venues have been in business for decades and, as far as the cities are concerned, are cultural heritage sites in their own right.
Although the burden is now mostly on Congress, you can help, too! While NIVA has an ongoing relief fund that helps support venues in the meantime, you can also donate directly to the venues closest to your heart. They also provide a full script (with room for more!) that you can email to your state legislators. If you’re more into social media, the hashtag #SaveOurStages lets you voice your concern on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
The support is overwhelming, but the fight isn’t over yet. Independent venues need everyone’s help if they’re going to make it through the pandemic and continue providing us with the community, art, and escape that they always have.