The following editorial originally appeared in the Seattle Times.
Our region’s community of concert halls, nightclubs, and theaters went dark a year ago when artists, staff, and patrons huddled with the rest of us. These venues, which have promoted the world-class live entertainment culture of the Pacific Northwest, are earmarked for federal survival aid. This help can help them get through the post-pandemic reopening nights for the good of all of us.
A scholarship program supported by Washington US Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell can help performance rooms across the country regain their footing. However, the $ 16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators grants in the COVID-19 federal agency legislation failed to roll out on April 8 due to website troubles. A solution to the technical problems of small business administration is urgently needed before further venues are permanently closed.
There are more than 200 small and medium-sized independent entertainment venues and cinemas in Washington that could benefit from this. Their crowds have gone, but rent payments and other expenses remain for community treasures from The Shakedown in Bellingham to the Lucky You Lounge in Spokane.
The Grand Cinema in Tacoma closed in March 2020 and has put its employees on leave. The funds from the federal paycheck protection program were then used to cover workers’ health insurance. Philip Cowan, the theater’s executive director, said he had no way of knowing when the grants for the shuttered venue might be available. He fears that the money that comes first, serves first will quickly drain away.
“It was a mess, to be honest,” Cowan said in an online city hall hosted by Cantwell. “This has taken a long time to get started and the information coming out of the SBA is ubiquitous.”
Regional benefits are not limited to just maintaining the major entertainment venues in the Pacific Northwest – although this is to be welcomed. As the spread of COVID-19 subsides in the community, the joy of joining an audience for a concert or play, laughing at an actor’s joke, or nodding to a familiar bass line will provide a much-needed boost to weary ghosts.
The economic aspects are also important. Cantwell’s office said 135 independent Washington venues, which can entertain audiences of up to 2,000, employ 3,000 people and have an annual economy of $ 785 million. As these areas are re-appearing, they can encourage recovery in other sectors. Everyone needs time to rebuild.
“We book artists for six months to a year, so the money is fantastic,” said Steven Severin, co-owner of the Neumos rock club in Seattle. “It will take us further down the road, but it will by no means make us well. We will not go back to where we were. “
The runway for recovery is long and the systems that provide assistance should be viewed as necessary infrastructure for future economic resilience. The SBA’s Shuttered Venue grants are the latest in a long list of state and federal efforts that initially stalled to meet the immense demand for economic relief for COVID-19.
With the pandemic approaching its end, supporting this rescue effort for a precarious and vital sector should be a high priority. Washington residents will soon need destinations again.
The Seattle Times editorial staff are Editorial Page Editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Jennifer Hemmingsen, Mark Higgins, Derrick Nunnally, and William K. Blethen (retired).