Congress approved a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package on December 21 that will send $600 stimulus checks to most Americans and offer $325 billion in relief to small businesses — and that includes $15 billion from the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act for live-music venues, cultural institutions and movie theaters. The bill awaits the president's signature.
"Colorado’s hardworking people and small businesses need relief, and we are glad Congress is finally considering at least some help," Governor Jared Polis said in a statement, as the deal was nearing completion December 20. "Additional federal direct cash payments of $600 per person and extended unemployment benefits for over 16,000 Coloradans impacted by this pandemic are a welcomed resource. Ultimately, this package is an important down payment from the federal government for what is needed to help get the nation successfully through the health crisis from the deadly virus and the global recession.”
If the president signs the bill, venues and cultural organizations that have been begging for federal relief will finally have some emergency money to help catch up on rent, pay other bills and perhaps even prepare to bring back some laid-off and furloughed staff. Independent music and arts organizations that had been signaling they might close any day now have a fighting chance of reopening when COVID-19 has been slowed.
Colorado has already lost some cultural mainstays, including 3 Kings Tavern, El Chapultepec and the Zephyr Lounge. Now venues like the hi-dive, Dazzle and the Oriental Theater, which have warned they're on the brink of closure, might actually be able to make it through to mid-2021, as the COVID-19 vaccinations finally spread nationwide.
"We’re thrilled that Congress has heard the call of shuttered independent venues across the country and provided us a crucial lifeline by including the Save Our Stages Act in the COVID-19 Relief Bill," notes David Weingarden of Z2 Entertainment, which runs the Boulder and Fox theaters. "We’re also incredibly grateful that this bill provides Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which will help the millions of people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own during this economic crisis."
At the Oriental Theater, Scott Happel is equally enthusiastic. "We are very excited about the Save Our Stages bill passing today," he says. "This money will keep a vibrant and important independent music scene alive, not only in Denver and Colorado, but across the country. Without this, we risked a wasteland of only large corporate entities like AEG and Live Nation completely controlling live music. We look forward to returning to hosting killer live music to packed houses again, hopefully by the end of 2021."
For Denver Film, the federal relief package will be a game-changer, says new CEO James Mejia. His organization has furloughed workers and been operating with bare-bones staffing. "It will help us reset our budget, allowing us to focus on looking forward to a robust year of programming," he says. "We are asking our team to do more with less, and this would certainly help us to reduce furloughs and get back to doing what we do best — making the magic of curated film available and accessible to and for the Colorado community."
While Nicole Cacciavillano, owner of the Black Box, was happy to hear the news, she still has concerns over whether everybody who needs support will be helped. "Let's hope that's enough for all the venues!" she says.
Levitt Pavilion Denver head Chris Zacher, who has been championing federal relief for months in his role as the co-captain of the Colorado chapter of the National Independent Venue Association, is optimistic. "There's enough in the package to help everyone who qualifies," he notes.
"The music industry came to a screeching halt when COVID-19 hit the U.S. in March of this year," Zacher notes in a statement issued late December 21. "When the state was starting to open back up in May, there was little hope that we would be able to return to our normal course of business for quite some time. We were the first industry to close, and we will be the last industry to reopen. Our venues have been shuttered, revenue streams have been depleted, our ability to keep employees on payroll has been severely hampered.
"If not for the Save Our Stages Act, upwards of 90 percent of the independent venues in Colorado would have closed their doors for the final time by the end of March 2021."
But even as venues celebrate this legislative victory, Zacher cautions people to acknowledge the gravity of the current situation, and the lives lost to the pandemic. Colorado has seen over 4,000 COVID-19 deaths, and the United States has lost more than 320,000 people.
"While we celebrate this lifeline for our indie venues, we must remember those who've lost their lives, their livelihoods and their businesses," Zacher says. "COVID-19 is still working its way through our communities. Let's do right for our fellow Coloradans from now until the vaccine is widely distributed so that we can get back to enjoying shows together soon."
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