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San Francisco Nonprofit Will Pay Struggling Indie Venues' Bills

San Francisco
Mark Bauer/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

San Francisco

San Francisco's independent venues are getting a helping hand. With concerts shut down since last March due to the coronavirus pandemic, nonprofit The Giving Back Fund has launched the Independent Venue Preservation Initiative (IVPI) with a new project called Subscribe to Live to aide venues by paying their essential bills through community crowdfunded micro-donations.

Designed to work in conjunction with federal, state, and city grants as well as individual venue fundraisers, Subscribe to Live provides immediate financial relief by directly connecting venues to a network of private donors. The program is now available in San Francisco with plans to expand throughout the greater Bay Area. 

“Subscribe to Live is the only non-grant, non-loan community based, rapid relief financial aid program available,” said Elizabeth Simon, Bourgeois Productions Presents promoter and founder of Independent Venue Preservation Initiative, in a statement. “By investing in our local arts and entertainment economy for the price of a streaming subscription, we can make a substantial positive impact on our city, preserving all independent culturally significant businesses within the community.” 

The funds are aimed at helping independent venues pay rent or mortgage payments, liability insurance and utilities dating back to February 2020. IVPI will ensure Subscribe to Live remains available to venues while they re-open until business activity can resume at full capacity and there is no longer a need for financial assistance. 

"We never thought we would see a full-stop of live music and entertainment worldwide, but as a result, we amplified a message that was obvious to those of us in the industry -- music venues and social spaces are the heart and soul of a city, and without them we all suffer,” added Jocelyn Kane, former executive director of The San Francisco Entertainment Commission and advisory board member of IVPI. “IVPI and #SubscribeToLive allow direct support to these vital institutions.” 

With as many as 100 independent venues throughout San Francisco, IVPI estimates it costs around $1 million per month to cover all of their essential bills. Unlike a grant or loan where venue owners receive a lump sum of money and pay bills out of that, Subscribe to Live will pay bills directly on their behalves. 

“Looking back at the history of San Francisco, it’s clear we may have always needed a program like Independent Venue Preservation Initiative,” added Simon. “The city has gone through significant changes with redevelopment in the 1970s, the tech boom and subsequent bust, and the housing crisis which forced artists and musicians to leave altogether.”  

Notable recent closures include Viracocha (2015), Brainwash Cafe (2017), Elbo Room (2018), Mezzanine (2019), Hemlock Tavern (2019), Slim’s (2020), Amnesia (2020) and Revolution Café (2021). In the East Bay, venues The Uptown, Stork Club, and Starline Social Club all closed in 2020. 

“We are on the brink of another catastrophic event if we don’t deliver targeted aid where it is needed. Venue owners shouldn’t have to wait around for a chance at another grant because we can’t risk losing any more venues,” said Simon. 

To receive financial aid from Subscribe To Live, venues must register to become a verified independent live performance venue through the non-profit's site. There is no cost to apply. Bills will then be processed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once a venue’s bill has been approved, the payment will be fulfilled within one month. 

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