United States Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) have introduced a new federal relief bill that aims to assist music and entertainment venues struggling venues keep from shuttering amid the ongoing COVID-19 event shutdowns.
According to a press release, the new legislation, dubbed the “Save Our Stages Act,” would extend six months of financial support to venues in order to help “keep venues afloat, pay employees and preserve a critical economic sector for communities across America.”
The new bill comes in direct response to the widespread campaign by the recently-formed National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) to seek aid for this sector of the economy that will be hit the hardest by the pandemic. Due to the nature of live events, music venues were the first to close, and they’ll be the last to reopen. The organizations “Save Our Stages” campaign has garnered support from thousands of members of the music industry and beyond.
As Senator Klobuchar explained in a statement, “Minnesota’s concert halls, theatres and places of entertainment, like First Avenue in Minneapolis, where Prince famously performed, have inspired generations with the best of local music, art and education. This legislation would help ensure that small entertainment venues can continue to operate and serve our communities for generations to come.”
As Dayna Frank, NIVA board member and owner of Minneapolis’ First Avenue, explained in the NIVA’s initial letter to congress when the organization launched in April, “Our passionate and fiercely independent operators are not ones to ask for handouts, but because of our unprecedented, tenuous position, for the first time in history, there is legitimate fear for our collective existence.”
Noted Senator Cornyn in the press release, “Texas is home to a number of historic and world-class small entertainment venues, many of which remain shuttered after being the first businesses to close. The culture around Texas dance halls and live music has shaped generations, and this legislation would give them the resources to reopen their doors and continue educating and inspiring Texans beyond the coronavirus pandemic.”
Earlier this month, a survey of Austin, TX venues had projected that 90% of the music-rich city’s venues could close if concerts remained on hold through the end of the summer. The Texas cultural hub was one of the first cities to be hit hard by the coronavirus, as their annual SXSW conference and was the fist cancellation domino to fall back in March.
The proposed, bipartisan “Save Our Stages” act would ensure that relief funds only go to small, independent venue operators, promoters and talent reps. The individual grant amounts would mirror either 45% of a business’ operation costs from 2019 or $12 million, whichever is less. Those that receive grants would be able to use the money to cover costs incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as pay for rent, utilities, mortgages, personal protective equipment, maintenance, administrative costs, taxes, and expenses that would allow venues to meet local and federal social distancing guidelines. The “Save Our Stages” act would also leave open the possibility of “supplemental grants” in the future if funding remains necessary.
A separate bill, the RESTART Act, was also introduced by Senators Todd Young and Michael Bennet last week, with broader goals for aid that would also help venues. An additional bill introduced in the House, the “Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act,” would allow individuals who derive much of their income from freelance work – a group that includes the majority of independent music workers—to opt into the freelancer-focused Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which offers state unemployment benefits to freelance workers for the first time in U.S. history.
While these are exciting and much-needed developments for the American music industry, they are far from the first to attempt to address the live music industry with coronavirus relief measures. The German government recently approved a $169M relief package for live events as part of their “Restart Culture” initiative. The state of Oregon also recently earmarked $50M of its CARES Act funds to go to struggling local venues and arts organizations.