Rev. Moose is the executive director and co-founder of NIVA, the National Independent Venue Association, as well as managing partner at Marauder, the firm that produces Independent Venue Week in the United States.
If the American dream is alive and well, then this past year-and-a-half has been a nightmare. Locally owned and run businesses and organizations from every sector have struggled to maintain existence and navigate government support programs. Yet no sector has been as hard hit as live events: venues were the first to close and will be the very last to open. In addition to being shut down for the greater good, the reopening process to map out an event calendar, staff up, and sell tickets takes several months of preparation, not to mention it comes with the accompanying upfront costs of all of the aforementioned.
Independent venue owners and operators successfully advocated for the passage of the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act, now officially known as the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. This landmark legislation, the biggest arts funding program in American history, is an acknowledgment of these rooms’ value to our local communities. One recent study in Chicago showed that for every dollar spent on a ticket at a small venue, $12 is generated in local economic activity. The fight to save our stages was not just to ensure the survival of independent venues but entire local economies, from thousands of small businesses to the hundreds of thousands of jobs they provide across the country.
With $16 billion set aside to assist the independent live sector, all must be well now, right? If only that were the case. Today, more than six months after this emergency relief was signed into law, the vast majority of qualified recipients have yet to see a dollar. Many still don’t know if their applications have even been reviewed. The economic and psychological stress is harrowing, especially as our world simultaneously plans to reopen. It’s like we’re being told that the life rafts have been deployed, but still have to swim to shore by ourselves.
The future of the entire independent live sector will be guided by what happens this year. Locally owned and operated rooms gave us almost every single musician or comedian whose name you now know. This is why the world has seen countless superstars and emerging artists alike clamor to support the independent live venues that launched their careers. This all likely sounds dramatic, perhaps even hyperbolic. Surely you would have known before the shutdowns if it were that important. But it is that important. It always has been that important. If it wasn’t, then it would be impossible to explain the extraordinary way that fans, artists, and venue staff alike came together to fight for the survival of their local venues through constant and unrelenting advocacy work at an unprecedented scale.
This year’s Independent Venue Week, which ends July 18, will be the biggest celebration of independent live music, comedy, and events in the world. It boasts more than 450 shows across 367 venues in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Yet it’s hardly a victory lap as behind the excitement of people getting back to work, there is still the stark reality that these businesses and organizations continue to struggle to be made whole. The best way to support these locally owned and operated institutions is to be there in person, buy a ticket or two, take a friend, and, when the lights go down, lose yourself in the magical moment we are all fighting to preserve.