New Senate Bill Aims to Keep Independent Music Venues Afloat

First Avenue in Minneapolis.
Darin Kamnetz

First Avenue in Minneapolis.

The $10 billion Save Our Stages grant program intends to offer businesses six months of financial support.

A new bill in the Senate aims to provide much-needed relief to independent venues struggling to stay in business during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday (July 22), Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Save Our Stages Act, a $10 billion Small Business Administration grant program for independent live music venue operators affected by COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. It would provide six months of financial support to keep venues afloat, pay employees and seek to preserve an economic sector that has been shuttered in most states since mid-March. 

“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,” Cornyn said in a statement. “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.”

The act has been endorsed by both the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and the National Independent Talent Organization (NITO).

“Our members told us months ago that if the shutdown lasted six months or longer and there wasn’t federal relief to hold them over, 90% of them would fold permanently,” said Dayna Frank, president of NIVA and CEO First Avenue Productions in Minneapolis, in a statement. “With no revenue and immense overhead, four months in, it’s already happening.  The warning light is flashing red and our only hope is for legislation like Save Our Stages Act or RESTART Act to be passed before Congress goes on August recess. Otherwise, most businesses in this industry will collapse.”

The Save Our Stages Act would narrowly define independent live venue operators, promoters and talent representatives to prevent large, international corporations from receiving federal grant funding and direct the Small Business Association to make grants to eligible venues equal to the lesser of either 45% of operation costs from calendar year 2019 or $12 million.

“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,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “This legislation would help ensure that small entertainment venues can continue to operate, and serve our communities for generations to come.”

The act would differ from previous bills like the Paycheck Protection Loan which only allowed loans for small businesses to be forgiven if the money went to payroll. The Save Our Stages Act would permit recipients to use grants for costs incurred during the COVID pandemic as well as for rent, utilities, mortgage obligations, PPE procurement, payments to contractors, regular maintenance, administrative costs, taxes, operating leases, and capital expenditures related to meeting state, local, or federal social distancing guidelines.

“On behalf of our more than 2,000 member venues, promoters and festivals, as well as their employees, artists and local communities who are facing an existential crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re incredibly grateful to Senators Cornyn and Klobuchar,” said co-chair of NIVA’s Advocacy Committee and president of Hartke Presents Adam Hartke in a statement.

“While existing government assistance programs have helped other industries, they weren’t tailored to meet the needs of small businesses like ours that have zero revenue, enormous overhead and no visibility into when we can fully re-open," continued Hartke. "The Save Our Stages Act will provide the assistance we need to get through the shutdown until we can reopen safely and once again become the economic generators for our communities that we’ve always been.”

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