Both the present and the future look awfully bleak for the live events and concert industry in the United States, and the dire economic situation might get worse before it gets better. Last week, a survey conducted by the University of Houston as commissioned by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Central Texas For Business Task Force revealed up to 90 percent of the live music venues in Austin could close forever if they’re not reopened for business by the fall.
The report comes as the state of Texas has seen a sharp rise in total confirmed COVID-19 cases (258,658) and deaths (3,192) as of July 12th, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. As some fans may remember, the city of Austin was one of the first to draw headlines with the arrival of COVID-19 back in March when organizers for SXSW officially canceled the major industry event on March 6th.
As the virus continues to flourish throughout populated areas of Texas, the new survey paints a scary picture of what could happen to the once-thriving music city if venues remain closed or go without additional financial aid. Many business owners are marking Halloween as the milestone by when most of the city’s bars and venues must reopen.
Other alarming findings of the survey revealed up to 62 percent of Austin’s music venues fear they will only survive for four more months (or less) if they remain closed, while only 19 percent were able to pay their June rent in full (67 percent paid less than half of their rent balance). 83 percent of Austin’s venues laid off their full-time employees and 79 percent of venues suspended payments to vendors, suppliers, and landlords.
“Live music venues are far and away skyrocketing to the top of every category in terms of hardest hit, eminent closure, layoffs, trickle-down effects to the rest of the economy in the form of taxes and vendor contracts,” said Rebecca Reynolds, who heads the city’s Music Venue Alliance which looks to allocate grants and loans to help the venues in desperate need of aid. “We’re trying to articulate that we don’t need the whole fund, but here’s what we need and here’s some places we can get the money from to keep venues on ice for three months. We were very pleased to see the survey results reflect what we’ve been feeling out here in the community.”
Last Tuesday (June 6th) marked the start of the application process for qualifying small businesses in Austin which hope to receive grants of up to $40,000 as part of the city’s economic aid funding from the federal CARES Act.
Cody Cowan, who serves as an executive director for the Red River Cultural District, has noted that the $40,000 grants approved by the city for small businesses will likely not be enough to keep most music venues alive through the end of the year.
“I feel like we’re playing Frogger and just leaping from one disaster relief pad to the next, hoping there will be another bigger pad coming from the federal government, though no one knows at this point,” Cowan said of the bleak situation for the 54 designated music venues throughout Austin which remain closed. “That’s really the only way that small businesses and especially independent music venues will have any chance of still being open by Halloween. I have hope for another round of (federal) aid just on a pragmatic basis, that if the federal government doesn’t provide relief then we’re going to see a tipping point economically that there’s no coming back from as a society.”
Many of the city’s venue owners and executives have joined the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) in hopes of securing more financial aid from a federal level. NIVA held its own survey on a national level earlier this year, which found that 90 percent of independent venue owners believe they could be forced to close forever without substantial government assistance. Nearly all planned 2020 concert tours and music festivals have already been postponed to 2021 in hopes the overall health of the country improves by next year.
While the live events industry in the United States struggles desperately to stay above water, the German federal government recently allocated $169 million to benefit its own live events industry. Last week, the U.K. government approved the return of outdoor concerts and performing arts events as part of the country’s five-stage roadmap of reopening its economy, in addition to a nearly $2 billion stimulus package for the arts.
[H/T Austin Monitor]