Colorado's Independent Venues Rally for Federal Support

The sign outside the Oriental Theater makes light of dire circumstances.
The sign outside the Oriental Theater makes light of dire circumstances. Lauren Antonoff
Owners of hundreds of bars, clubs and performance spots on the brink of permanent closure around the country are pushing lawmakers to protect independent venues through COVID-19 shutdowns.

In Colorado, where Governor Jared Polis says that such venues will be some of the last businesses to reopen as the state relaxes its stay-at-home order, these owners are joining a new lobbying group, the National Independent Venue Association.

"The newly formed National Independent Venue Association has brought together more than 800 independent music venues across the United States in an effort to lobby for support for venues, promoters and support staff," explains Chris Zacher, the executive director of Levitt Pavilion Denver, who is serving as captain for the Colorado members.

Fourteen venues and organizations across the state have signed on, including Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, Colorado Punk Rock Army, Freeze Management, Levitt Pavilion, Matteo LaMuraglia, Ophelia's Electric Soapbox, Seventh Circle Music Collective, the Black Box, the Caribou Room, the Oriental Theater, the Walnut Room, Washington’s and Z2 Entertainment,  which runs the Boulder and Fox theaters.

In an April 22 letter to Congress, NIVA explained the crisis that independent venues face and pushed lawmakers to offer relief.

"Our businesses were among the first to close as COVID-19 spread across the country, and unfortunately, are also likely to be among the last to reopen," the NIVA letter states, outlining concerns that concerts and live events may not come back until 2021.

Polis himself has suggested that large events, such as concerts, may not be permitted until there is a vaccine, a cure or herd immunity.

"Even once venues are permitted by the government to reopen, our industry will require months to return to usual schedules, due to the intricate and complicated process of artists’ planning, scheduling and tour routing," the letter continues. "Further, capacity limitations and other restrictions will likely inhibit our ability to fully recover for years."

NIVA argues that programs enacted by Congress in response to the coronavirus pandemic's effect on the economy may have helped other industries, but have done little to help independent promoters and venues.

"In our present situation, in order to ensure public health, we have no opportunity to generate revenue, and we have no work to offer most of our employees," the letter explains. "The current programs are designed for businesses that will potentially be able to return to normal business operations in the coming weeks and months. They fail to sustain an industry like ours. With your help, we will resume normal operations and our businesses and employees will come back stronger and more resilient than ever. But right now, without your help, thousands of independent venues will not survive to see the day when our doors can open to the public again. While we have no income, we do have essential employees, employee benefits, debts with personal guarantees, rents or mortgages, utilities, insurance, local, state and federal taxes, and the massive burden of ticket refunds for more than 100,000 canceled shows due to COVID-19."

NIVA is asking Congress for a variety of fixes: modifying the Paycheck Protection Program; tax relief; continuing federal support for unemployment insurance that includes contract workers and artists; and deferring mortgage, rent and other forms of debt until businesses are open and running again.

"Taken together," the letter concludes, "these proposals will serve as a vital lifeline for our industry, for our community of employees and artists, and for the iconic venues that mean so much to our local communities."
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris