Saving the music: Bipartisan bill aims to aid struggling independent venues

Published: Sep. 23, 2020 at 9:18 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Music fans across the country are missing live shows as thousands of venues remain closed.

“We have no revenue, we have enormous overhead, and no view into when we’re going to get to reopen," said Audrey Fix Schaefer, the director of communications for I.M.P., which owns several music venues in the D.C.- Baltimore region.

Since April, Fix Schaefer has also been part of the National Independent Venue Association, or NIVA. It’s a new organization representing more than 2,000 concert hall owners and promoters fighting for federal assistance to stay open.

“Venues are going under right now, because Congress has not acted,” Fix Schaefer said.

According to a survey of NIVA’s members in March, 90% of them said their venues would be forced to close if the pandemic lasted more than six months without federal funding.

Now, that fear is becoming a reality.

Most independent venues did not qualify for earlier coronavirus relief from the federal government. The Paycheck Protection Program did not allow venues to use money towards expenses like rent. Some have tried outdoor or livestreamed performances to bring in cash, but they say it’s not enough to pay the bills. Most venues have remained closed until they can host crowds again.

“Music in America is such an important part of our culture," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said. "And it’s also a huge economic driver.”

Klobuchar and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) wrote the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act. The bill would provide $10 billion in funding for venues to cover expenses like rent, utilities, and other operating costs. In Cornyn’s home state, that means aid for venues in Austin, a city known for live music. For Klobuchar’s state of Minnesota, the bill could help venues such as First Avenue in Minneapolis, where Prince famously performed.

“We all recognize the nature of the emergency and the need to respond in a big and bold way," Cornyn said.

The senators are trying to make sure the legislation is included in the next broad coronavirus relief package. But with negotiations stalled in Congress, and so many different industries seeking help, it’s unclear if and when the music will play again.

Both senators emphasize that this bill would help small to mid-size music venues. Visit the NIVA website to find a list of impacted locations in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Multimedia Journalist Natalie Grim and Photojournalist/Editor Tyler Smith contributed to this report.

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