The “SOS” in Save Our Stages was a bit of a happy accident, but it also wasn’t a coincidence. The $15 billion in grants set aside for locally owned venues, movie theaters and performance halls in the stimulus act is exactly what places such as The Moxi needed to survive.
“It’s literally going to save countless communities and countless downtowns,” said Ely Corliss, the owner of the Moxi in downtown Greeley. “These venues are more than just the tickets and overpriced drinks. They are the reason for going out to eat and visiting downtown.”
The Save Our Stages act includes money for non-profit museums and talent reps in addition to live performance venues, promoters and theater operators such as the Kress, also in downtown Greeley whose operations have been mostly shut down since March. Justin Ghofrani, one of the owners and operators of the Kress, said the venue would apply for grants as soon as possible.
“We are very happy that it passed,” Ghofrani said. “We are excited to hear more about it.”
The grants come from a massive lobbying effort by the National Independent Venue Association, which includes 3,000 small businesses and the work of people such as Chris Zacher, the ceo and executive director of the Levitt Pavilion in Denver who leads the Colorado chapter and the effort to get the bill passed.
“Getting this bill passed was such a relief,” Zacher said. “This is the first week since March where I can not worry about shit.”
Zacher said he spent 70 hours a week talking to legislators and working to get supporters to do the same. Eventually Zacher and others delivered 2.5 million letters to Congress from fans and artists as well as venue employees, one of the keys to getting Congress to listen to their pleas.
“Congress will act based on what constituents are saying, so if you’re just 1 or 50 or 100, the chances are pretty slim,” Zacher said. “That took a lot of work to keep people engaged enough to act.”
Zacher didn’t think the Save Our Stages act had much of a future. He thought a bill that would give venue owners more loans had a better chance, but he hoped for Save Our Stages, given that it hands out grants, not loans.
“We really can’t take on any more debt,” said Zacher, who already was up to his neck in loans, along with many other owners just trying to stay afloat. “This offered the best advantages for the industry. It will truly save an enormous amount of venues. $15 billion is a lot of money. It should help everyone.”
Applications for the grants should open by Jan. 15, Zacher said, although the timeline is fluid. That money will first go to venues that lost 90 percent of their revenue, and then that goes down as the weeks go on.
The money won’t go to large corporations such as Live Nation, which made it more difficult to pass, but those protections are there to save small business and venues that bore a huge portion of the burden to keep COVID-19 from getting out of control (whether that worked is up to you to decide).
“We don’t have the capital to hire lobbyists,” Zacher said. “We all came together, and that’s what gave us that power.”
For more details, go to https://www.nivassoc.org/sos-act.