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Performance venues might get pandemic aid as their doors remain closed

Music venues were among the first to close amid the pandemic, and may be the last to reopen

The Anthem music venue is pictured during the opening ceremony of the Wharf complex along Maine Avenue SW in this archive photo. The venue has been hit hard amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Anthem music venue is pictured during the opening ceremony of the Wharf complex along Maine Avenue SW in this archive photo. The venue has been hit hard amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Local venues unable to host sweaty standing room-only crowds as the country attempts to socially distance may get some extra financial aid until they can welcome back concertgoers and other live audiences.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., want to create a $10 billion grant program to help buoy independent live venue operators who are struggling to pay bills while the pandemic keeps them from holding concerts. Their definition of venue could also include comedy shows and venues that host theatrical productions. The program, dubbed the “Save Our Stages Act,” would provide six months of financial support in the form of grants so venues can pay employees and expenses, a release from the senators said.

As the pandemic gripped the U.S., live venues were “the first to close, and we’ll be the last to reopen,” said Audrey Fix Schaefer, the communications director for local Washington venue operator I.M.P., parent company of such venerable spots as the 9:30 Club and the Anthem.

Schaefer is also the communications director for the newly formed National Independent Venue Association, which advocated for assistance in a future coronavirus aid relief bill because of the deep pain the pandemic has inflicted on the industry.

GOP senators are preparing to put forward a $1 trillion-plus coronavirus relief package as a series of bills, though it’s not clear exactly when the bills will be unveiled.

Cornyn expressed concern over the number of venues that locked their doors as local governments struggled to keep people apart in an effort to slow the rampaging virus.

Small music venues are culturally important and anchor parts of America’s communities, he said. “This legislation would give them the resources to reopen their doors and continue educating and inspiring Texans beyond the coronavirus pandemic,” Cornyn added.

Minneapolis’ venue First Avenue, where then-youthful and unknown musician Prince played some of his earliest shows, is one of the places in Minnesota that has “inspired generations with the best of local music, art and education,” Klobuchar said. The funding would protect the small venues and make sure they can continue to operate, she said.

The Paycheck Protection Program, passed by Congress as part of the nearly $2 trillion coronavirus aid bill in March, has not helped venues in the same way it helped other industries, she said, because they can’t just bring employees back to work if there are no events.

Ticket sale losses could reach $9 billion, and 90 percent of venue owners, promoters and bookers report they could close, a release said.

Though they’re not making money, rent and other expenses still must be paid, Schaefer said.

The bill is written in a way to provide aid to the industry’s small businesses but bar larger international corporations from being able to obtain funding.

Schaefer also pointed out the draw a music venue has to an area of town. Concertgoers are known to frequent eateries and bars near a venue.

“If the government invests in us now to allow us to hold on until we can open up with it safely, then we could be part of the economic recovery and renewal of our communities,” she said.

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