No one can know what six months from now will look like, but independent venues stateside have made it quite clear that they won’t be around unless they receive comprehensive federal support. According to a June survey of members of the National Independent Venue Association, which represents 2,000 entertainment venues in all 50 states and D.C., 90 percent of its members say they’ll be forced to close permanently if they’re shut down for six months without federal relief.
Besides the terror of mounting new case and death counts, with a government hellbent on numbing the public into apathy, the hardest part going forward is the uncertainty of what society will lose on the other side of this. Across the pond, the United Kingdom has taken some fairly bold action toward saving the arts. Over the weekend, the U.K. government announced a £1.57 billion stimulus package to support fledgling performing arts and cultural institutions, including theatre, museums, art galleries, live music, heritage sites, and independent cinema. A government press release refers to this aid package as the “biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture, [which] will provide a lifeline to vital cultural and heritage organisations across the country hit hard by the pandemic.”
The package will spread grants and loans between the U.K. territories, with England receiving the largest share — a £1.15 billion support pot — for cultural organizations. Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales will receive packages ranging from £33 and 97 million, with £120 million redirected to heritage construction projects in England that were paused during the pandemic.
Much like with the PPP loans stateside, theatres, venues, and other cultural hubs will have to apply through industry bodies and have to prove their contributions to economic growth. Although the stimulus package was largely popular, Labour shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens told the BBC that while this was a “much-needed” package, it was still “too little, too late,” for some of the U.K.’s most struggling arts organizations. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden also ceded to BBC that widespread job losses are still to be expected in the industry. “Sadly, not everyone is going to be able to survive and not every job is going to be protected and sadly, I will have to be honest with you, of course we will see further redundancies,” he said.
While it’s hard to imagine similar legislation passing in the U.S., the NIVA-supported RESTART Act (H.R. 7481) has received bipartisan support in its earliest stages. Led by Senators Todd Young and Michael Bennet, along with Reps. Michael Kelly and Jared Kelly, the bill would reshape the PPP program to finance six months of payroll, benefits, and operating costs for venues that are closed indefinitely. It features a prolonged 7-year payback schedule, in which interest payments wouldn’t be required for the first 12 months — which in the worst case, could be the window for venues to remain closed.
As we’ve seen this past week in a number of coronavirus hotspots, venues face the difficult temptation of hosting events for concertgoers who are ready to return against sound public health judgement. With inadequate federal relief and entertainment companies of all sizes staring down extinction, it will take an ambitious package to keep these art spaces afloat for the next year. One of President Trump’s perennial budgetary pet projects has been attempting to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, so he’s not overly sympathetic to preserving arts and culture. But however challenging this may seem, hopefully the economic fallout of losing these businesses across the country will force his hand before it’s too late.