Music Cities Together, a joint initiative between Washington D.C.-based Music Policy Forum (Michael Bracy) and Austin-based Sound Music Cities (Don Pitts) committed to helping local officials in cities across America improve their music ecosystems, is stepping up efforts to save music venues and clubs nationwide. Portland, Seattle (King County), New Orleans, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Austin, Albuquerque and Chicago are the first eight cities on board with the team’s REVS (Reopen Every Venue Safely) pilot program, which aims to “develop and disseminate action plans and budgets rooted in a hyper-pragmatic understanding of the challenges ahead” in the COVID-19 era.
For club owners and city officials seeking to save venues from shutting down, getting the safety-side operational details right when it comes time to re-open is more crucial than ever, as time may not be on the side of some clubs bleeding cash as stages remain silent in most states. And while hundreds of music venues nationwide have already joined newly formed advocacy group, the National Independent Venue Association, in order to lobby lawmakers in Washington D.C. for financial relief, Music Cities Together aims to help club owners on the operational side, as the coming months may see new local regulations from various state and city authorities that music venues may have to comply with in order to stay in business.
“We all want live music back as quickly and safely as possible, says Bracy. “This can only happen through unprecedented levels of communication and partnership between local governments, venues and communications experts to make sure venues are safe and music workers and audiences are protected,” he added.
Pitts, who was formerly head of the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department’s Music and Entertainment Division, added that “for live music to reopen, government officials require direct and coordinated access to venue owners and other music businesses to ensure they are included in reopening strategies.”
For the duo’s new REVS initiative, Bracy and Pitts hope to share data and “best practices” tips across the eight cities between city officials and venue owners in an effort to best strategize ways to effectively ensure venues can open safely in a coming era where social distancing may be the new normal, temperature checks at the door might be a potential mandated safety check, and city-imposed reduced capacity numbers might also become a reality, at least in the short term, for several cities until the threat of the coronavirus is eliminated.
“As the shock of the pandemic and shutdown settled in, music advocates everywhere are seeking ideas for what we can do,” Bracy tells Variety. “REVS grew out of leadership and advice from our partners in King County who emphasized the importance of venues having direct engagement with their local health departments to make sure there was collaboration around the timing and protocols related to opening.”
The main thing Pitts and Bracy hope to achieve via the new initiative is communication and sharing across the newly formed network, as many of the cities may be organized at their respective local levels, yet they may not be aware of how owners and local governmental representatives are dealing with the quickly shifting scenarios playing out in other cities in real time
“We realized that audiences aren’t just going to flock back to see live music….we have to have a meaningful communications strategy to reach music workers and music fans to let them know exactly what is happening in these venue [from a safety perspective],” adds Bracy.
Lisa Alexis, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Economy in New Orleans, is one of the city officials working with Music Cities Together via their REVS initiative. “We understand it is unrealistic, and in some ways irresponsible, to blithely move ahead and assume venues will be in a position to open without an aggressive, integrated plan to anticipate the resources and strategies necessary to successfully — and safely — reopen our live music economy,” she said in a release.
For his part, Pitts is optimistic that as dire as things seem at the moment in the live music space, things will get better — and he is drawing from his direct past experience in Texas as an example. “During the last recession (2008-2010) our creative economy actually grew 20% in Austin,” he tells Variety. “A resilient creative class only works when you have city leaders that are dedicated to seeing policy ideas through to implementation — driving home these ideas through practical application, creating a framework that moves the needle, and ensuring that certain sectors of our creative class weather the economic storm.”