Groundswells of support for independent music venues during the coronavirus pandemic received boosts Wednesday at both the local and national levels. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas announced he is co-sponsoring the $10 billion Save Our Stages Act, and the Music Venue Alliance Austin proposed a $20 million Music Preservation Fund at a meeting of the city Music Commission.
The bipartisan congressional relief bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and "would provide Small Business Administration grants for independent live music venue operators affected by COVID-19 stay-at-home orders," according to a Senate news release. "These grants would provide six months of financial support to keep venues afloat, pay employees, and preserve a critical economic sector for communities across America."
The grant amounts would equal 45 percent of an eligible venue’s 2019 operating costs, with a $12 million cap. Funds could be used for costs incurred during the pandemic, including "rent, utilities, mortgage obligations, PPE procurement, payments to contractors, regular maintenance, administrative costs, taxes, operating leases, and capital expenditures related to meeting state, local, or federal social distancing guidelines."
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Recipients would be required to return any remaining funds a year after the disbursement date. The bill includes language intended to "narrowly define independent live venue operators, promoters, and talent representatives to prevent large, international corporations from receiving federal grant funding."
In a statement, Cornyn said that "Texas is home to a number of historic and world-class small entertainment venues, many of which remain shuttered after being the first businesses to close. … This legislation would give them the resources to reopen their doors and continue educating and inspiring Texans beyond the coronavirus pandemic."
Meanwhile, Rebecca Reynolds, president and founder of Music Venue Alliance Austin, presented the Music Preservation Fund proposal at Wednesday’s online meeting of the city’s Music Commission.
Reynolds cited data from a recent Hobby School of Public Affairs survey that indicated more than half of Austin’s music venues are at risk of closing for good by Halloween without further assistance. According to the survey, 79% of Austin venues have delayed payments to landlords, suppliers or vendors, with 83% reporting layoffs of full-time employees.
The Music Preservation Fund plan requests $8 million for large venues (with a capacity of more than 500), $8 million for medium-sized venues (with a 300-500 capacity) and $3 million for small venues (below 300 capacity). "Funds will primarily be focused on providing venues with support for fixed costs" and alternatives to in-person concernts that are more safe during the pandemic, such as livestreamed shows, according to the presentation.
According to the proposal, the alliance expects approximately 100 medium-sized venues, 75 small venues and 25 large venues would apply for the funds. An additional $1 million (for all venues regardless of capacity) would be earmarked for "streaming costs and funding for musicians."
Reynolds said the plan may hinge on a second round of federal CARES Act funds currently being debated in Congress. Though Austin City Council approved three resolutions requesting funds for venues from the $170 million the city received from the initial CARES Act, Reynolds said that no such funds have materialized.
"We are being told by council members and staff that it’s very likely the City of Austin will be receiving a new round of CARES funding, and our new proposal is based on that scenario," Reynolds said.
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Tentatively, the alliance will present the Music Preservation Fund proposal at the council’s Aug. 27 meeting. Reynolds expressed some concern about the delay, given that many venues already have been shuttered for more than four months. "We’re creating a lot of space and time between now and when we can get funding to places where it’s desperately needed," she told the commission.
The plan defines music venues according to a definition previously included in a proposed land development code: "An establishment where live music programming is the principal function of the business and/or the business is a live music destination, where the venue clearly establishes the ability of an artist to receive payment for work by percentage of sales, guarantee or other mutually beneficial formal agreement for every performance."
A few music venues in Austin tested the reopening waters when Gov. Greg Abbott allowed the state’s bars to resume business in May. After cases of COVID-19 and related hospitalizations surged across state, Abbott reversed course and shut bars back down in June. Since the first pandemic shutdown measures began in March, a few local music venues announced they were closing for good, including Barracuda and the Townsend.