Music venues and independent movie theaters that have been hanging on for dear life during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic should finally receive some relief when Congress votes on the second pandemic stimulus act, as they are expected to Monday. The $900 billion overall deal sends aid to Americans in a bevy of ways (including stimulus checks, albeit smaller than they were the first time around), but it also includes a special carve-out for our beloved music venues and theaters, in the form of the Save Our Stages act. In total, this portion of the stimulus will provide around $15 billion to both independent music venues and independent movie theaters in the coming months—desperately needed funds, given that the live performance/exhibition business has been practically nonexistent in many market since March of 2020.
We don’t yet have specific figures for how all of those funds will be divvied up, but it’s important to note that these funds are specifically earmarked for independent theaters and venues, rather than large corporate chains. That seems to suggest that major movie theater chains such as AMC or Cinemark won’t be included in those receiving funds via Save Our Stages, with the focus instead being on thousands of independent concert venues and movie theaters. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi described the act in these terms, making a statement on the compromise bill that had been reached Sunday night:
“Democrats secured critical funding and policy changes to help small businesses, including minority-owned businesses, and nonprofits recover from the pandemic,” Pelosi wrote. “The agreement includes over $284 billion for first and second forgivable PPP loans, expanded PPP eligibility for nonprofits and local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters, key modifications to PPP to serve the smallest businesses and struggling non-profits and better assist independent restaurants, and includes $15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions. The agreement also includes $20 billion for targeted EIDL Grants which are critical to many smaller businesses on Main Street.”
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, a cosponsor of Save Our Stages, also said the following: “I am especially pleased that this bill will provide money for bars and restaurants, and $15 billion in SBA grants for theatre operators and small venue owners through the Save Our Stages Act. These venues are so important to my state and many states across the country —they are the lifeblood of our communities. They were first to close, and will be the last to open. The bill gives them a fighting chance.”
Ultimately, even this aid package amounts to exactly that—just a fighting chance for these venues, given their almost total inability to generate revenue during the pandemic. Some independent theaters have managed to set up “digital screening rooms” to digitally sell movie rentals during recent months, but that kind of revenue only replaces a tiny fraction of what they would be making otherwise. Music venues have arguably been hit even worse, something that Paste was trying to highlight in our recent, 7-day series of live sessions in Nashville, Paste Studio on the Road. You can watch all of those sessions here, or via YouTube. The National Independent Venue Association estimates that 90% of the country’s independent venues were only weeks away from closing without aid, so we should likely be thankful this holiday season that Congress has at least managed to give our beloved venues some hope.
We’ll bring you more information on the Save Our Stages act and its impact on the venue/theater community as more details emerge.