Forced closures of entertainment venues have left most in desperate financial straits. Many came together to form the National Independent Venue Association, which is seeking federal support and sharing advice among members.
When states began closing down nonessential businesses to tamp the spread of coronavirus, organizers of an annual national recognition day for independent venues contacted everyone who had participated in previous years and invited them to a video call.
“It was an exchange of information,” said Audrey Fix Schaefer, communications director of the newly launched National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). “People would ask: What is the capacity you are allowed to have? What are you doing for employees? What is going on with your insurance? It was a pretty instant and intense exchange of information from venues, some of whom had previously been competitors. But that didn’t matter. Everyone just wanted to share information to figure out how we survive.”
From this desire, NIVA was born. “We realized we needed to come together,” Schaefer said. “We are going to have to take our story to Capitol Hill for assistance, or we’re not going to make it.”
The association began in mid-April and ballooned quickly, reaching 1,100 members by the end of the month. NIVA secured funding from sponsors See Tickets and Lyte to hire the lobbying firm Akin Gump to help with efforts to reach federal legislators.
Schaefer noted that venues are in a unique situation in that they are unable to be helped by some of the federal programs already out there, like the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers forgivable loans if 75 percent of the funds are spent on worker salaries.
“People don’t have employees now because they’re shut,” Schaefer said. “You can’t bar tend from home. You can’t do any of the jobs we do from home, so we are looking to use that money for the rent and the mortgage and utilities and the taxes.”
While venues want economic relief to help their industry, they also contend closed venues harm the individual communities where those venue are located.
“For every dollar spent for tickets at the venue, $12 was spent in the area of the venue,” Schaefer said. “Assisting these small venues will help us become economic drivers for renewal.”
Loss of those venues will also harm the larger art community. “These are the venues where careers are started,” Schaefer said. “We wouldn’t have a Lady Gaga if there weren’t small clubs. We wouldn’t have a Bruce Springsteen if there weren’t small venues.”
So far, NIVA has sent a letter to Congress to plead its case for funding and is encouraging members to speak to local legislators, too, about the need for venues to get help. The group plans to focus on providing best practices to help members after it secures federal funding. “There will come a time when we will try to offer seminars about different aspect about financial management, and then safety upon reopening,” Schaefer said. “But job one is survival and to get the funding.”