Arts, concert and performing venues are banding together to help the local entertainment scene recover from the financial damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of entertainment venues across the country lighted their buildings in red last week in a call for action to Congress.
More than 2,000 venues in more than 75 cities across the country participated in the Red Alert RESTART campaign Sept. 1, including Columbia County venues Hudson Hall and Basilica Hudson, to encourage Congress to enact the Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards A Recovery in 2020, or RESTART, Act.
The bill, if passed, would extend the Paycheck Protection Program, which expired Aug. 8 and enabled businesses to apply for up to $10 million in aid to cover payroll, rent, utility and mortgage costs.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has approved 5.2 million loans through the PPP program, totaling more than $525 billion.
Ninety-five percent of live events have been canceled due to the pandemic, 96% of entertainment industry companies have cut staff and wages, and 77% of workers in the industry have lost 100% of their income, according to WeMakeEvents North America, which organized the Red Alert RESTART event.
The industry employs more than 12 million people and generates more than $1 trillion annually.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, voiced their support for the RESTART Act while visiting Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on Monday.
“It is clear from my conversations throughout the district that small- and mid-size businesses need additional support,” Delgado said. “That’s why I’m calling on the House and Senate to urgently pass supplemental relief for NY-19 through the bipartisan RESTART Act. This legislation builds on the Paycheck Protection Program to provide flexible loans for the hardest-hit businesses in our area. Congress has a duty to respond to the needs on the ground in our rural communities, and I’ll keep pushing to get this bill included in the next coronavirus relief package.”
“Arts venues, restaurants, and tourist attractions across the Catskills and the state are suffering,” Gillibrand said. “These small businesses make New York a world renowned entertainment destination and we must help them survive this economic crisis. The PPP program clearly did not work for those hit hardest by this crisis, but the RESTART Act would help fill the gaps and ensure they receive the support they deserve. I will continue fighting to include this legislation as we work to pass the next relief package.”
Hudson Hall Executive Director Tambra Dillon said the venue has canceled 17 concerts and 84 youth workshops since the building closed March 15.
“All of our rentals canceled, which generate revenue,” she said. “Our major spring fundraiser was canceled, too.”
The hall has lost about $250,000 in revenue, which represents 25% of the budget, Dillon said.
“The earned revenue from ticket sales helps to offset the expenses of providing a live concert or event, but it doesn’t start to cover the overhead,” she said, adding that staff have a 21,000-square-foot building to maintain.
Hudson Hall receives most of its funding from the state, through the New York State Council on the Arts, Dillon said.
“We have two applications pending,” Dillon said. “I don’t know what the outcome will be. I don’t think NYSCA can make any awards until there is a budget.”
Staff would apply for grants for the 2022 cycle in March, Dillon said.
“Without a budget, nobody knows,” she said. “Everyone in the arts is in limbo.”
Staff at Hudson Hall are working on developing plans for its future, Dillon said.
“We are looking at a one-, two- and three-year plan in terms of whether or not we can sustain ourselves,” she said.
The hall’s focus has temporarily shifted from live events, Dillon said.
On June 27, Hudson Hall opened its galleries to the public on a reservation basis, Dillon said, adding that the exhibitions have gone smoothly.
“We are prohibited from doing any live events that are ticketed,” she said. “At the same time, we are starting to look at how we can support the city and businesses after the Shared Streets program concludes at the end of October.”
During the pandemic, Hudson Hall began sourcing personal protective equipment for local businesses and partnered with the city and Future Hudson on the Hudson Shared Streets initiative.
Shared Streets limits vehicular traffic and allows businesses and community groups to occupy parking spaces outside their buildings Fridays 4-10 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Warren Street between Front and 7th streets.
The staff is working on reimagining the Hudson Jazz Festival, Dillon said.
“[It won’t be] completely performance driven, although it will have some performance aspects,” she said.
Although the festival is typically in February, the team is looking to move the date up to November or December, to follow the Hudson Shared Streets program.
“We can’t move forward on it until the guidelines are made clear,” Dillon added. “We would like to get back to presenting live events, although not to the degree that we would compromise any workplace or public health safety.”
Basilica Hudson has moved its film screenings outdoors by partnering with the Greenville Drive-In Outdoor Cinema. This is the fifth year of the Basilica Non-Fiction Screening Series. The series will conclude this fall, with the remaining free screenings scheduled for Sept. 24 and Oct. 8. The venue canceled its annual Farm and Flea Spring Market in May due to the pandemic.
Helsinki Hudson hosts a virtual open mic every Tuesday at 7 p.m.
In addition to Hudson Hall and Basilica Hudson, several venues across the Capital Region participated in the event, including Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park, Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, the Times Union Center and the Palace Theatre in Albany and Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., addressed the struggle the live entertainment industry has faced at the Palace Theatre on Tuesday.
“We cannot let COVID shut down all of these places and that’s what will happen if we do nothing,” Schumer said. “We must ensure they survive and thrive after we defeat this horrible virus.”
Schumer is a co-sponsor on the Save Our Stages Act, which was introduced to Congress on July 22.
The act authorizes the SBA to give grants of up to $12 million to eligible venues to cover payroll, rent, utilities and personal protective equipment costs incurred between March 1 and Dec. 31.
The SBA would be authorized to give an additional grant, equal to 50% of the initial grant, which could cover expenses through June 30, 2021.
The act would save thousands of stages and hundreds of thousands of jobs, Schumer said.
“These businesses were the first to close down and the last to open up and have no revenues,” Schumer said. “Ninety percent of independent venues report that they will have to close permanently without federal funding, according to a survey from the National Independent Venue Association.”
Venues are predicted to lose nearly $9 million in revenue if ticket sales do not resume until 2021, according to niva.org.
Although low-risk indoor and outdoor arts and entertainment is permitted in Phase IV, guidance from the state Liquor Authority states that only “incidental” music is permitted, meaning no ticketed or advertised performances.
“Music should be incidental to the dining experience and not the draw itself,” according to the state Liquor Authority.
All other forms of live entertainment such as exotic dancing, comedy shows and karaoke are not permitted.
“We need to make this happen for the sake of the arts here in the Capital Region and the sake of the economy,” Schumer said.
Live entertainment is a driver of the local economy, he said, adding that patrons at live events will often visit the surrounding restaurants and stores when coming for an event.
For every $1 spent on a ticket at small venues, a total of $12 in economic activity is generated within communities on restaurants, hotels, taxis and retail establishments, according to niva.org.
“[These venues] are what makes New York New York,” Schumer said. “They are part of the heart and soul of this community.”
The National Independent Venue Association voiced its support for the bill.
“Our members expected resolution in July and have held out past their breaking points borrowing or scraping together anything they could until Congress makes a decision, but there is no further to go,” Dayna Frank, president of NIVA and CEO of First Avenue Productions in Minneapolis, said in a statement Tuesday. “Businesses will be closed, and homes will be lost if Congress doesn’t take immediate action. We need action now.”
Since the launch of saveourstages.com, nearly 2 million letters of support have been sent by fans and constituents in all 50 states, according to NIVA. In June, more than 600 artists including Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, Mavis Staples, Lady Gaga, Andre 3000, Coldplay, Willie Nelson, Jerry Seinfeld and Billie Eilish sent a letter to Congress advocating on behalf of NIVA.
Fifty-three percent of Americans attended a concert in 2019, according to the artists’ letter to Congress.
The artists encouraged Congress to consider the role independent venues have played in the careers of aspiring musicians and developing a cultural identity for the nation. “We urge you to remember we are the nation that gave the world jazz, country, rock & roll, bluegrass, hip hop, metal, blues and R&B,” according to the letter. “Entertainment is America’s largest economic export, with songs written and produced by American artists sung in every place on the globe. All of these genres of music, and the artists behind them, were able to thrive because they had neighborhood independent venues to play in and hone their craft, build an audience, and grow into the entertainers that bring joy to millions. Independent venues give artists their start, often as the first stage most of us have played on. These venues were the first to close and will be the last to reopen.”
Another bill in Congress to support the live entertainment industry is the Entertainment New Credit Opportunity for Relief & Economic Sustainability or ENCORES Act, which would allow eligible venues to receive a tax credit for 50% of any refund made between Jan. 31 and the enactment of the bill.