Even a week ago, many local music venues continued to pack the house despite growing concerns over COVID-19, defying claims that Seattle was a “ghost town.” That’s about to change.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced an emergency order banning gatherings of more than 250 people through the end of March in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. In King and Snohomish counties, gatherings of fewer than 250 people are also barred, unless certain sanitizing and social distancing requirements are met.

The prohibition, which Inslee said is “highly likely” to be extended beyond this month, covers social and recreational events, from concerts and sporting events to religious services and weddings. The restrictions are more severe than similar measures implemented in Paris and San Francisco, where gatherings of more than 1,000 people — roughly the capacity of the Showbox or Neptune Theatre — are temporarily banned.

The move intended to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus is expected to have a significant impact on music and arts organizations, many forced to clear their calendars for at least the next few weeks.

Pacific Northwest Ballet has canceled its March performances of the “One Thousand Pieces” repertory program and “Beauty and the Beast” school performance. The Seattle branch of PNB School, following the Seattle Public Schools announcement today, will be closed for 14 days; the Bellevue branch is expected to follow suit.

Ellen Walker, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s executive director, estimated that the closures will represent a loss of revenue amounting to more than a million dollars — $1.5 million if it continues through April.

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“It’s a massive financial impact to an organization like ours, and for every organization in this sector,” she said, emphasizing that all arts organizations are vulnerable. “We’ve all got significantly rising expenses in this region, and audiences are not growing at the same rate that the rest of the region is.”

Behind the scenes, venue operators worked to reschedule events and enact contingency plans.

Venues and promoters including CenturyLink Field, WaMu Theater, the Tacoma Dome and the AEG-run Showbox are postponing events through the end of March in accordance with Inslee’s order. AEG has already rescheduled a number of shows, including EDM producer NGHTMRE’s Tacoma Dome tour date, for later this summer. A spokesperson for the Tacoma Dome said the venue is working to reschedule country star Brantley Gilbert’s March 21 concert.

Other smaller venues like Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley and Q Nightclub are shutting down entirely for the next few weeks, while the Triple Door will remain open with limited capacity, planning to comply with social distancing requirements.

Wayne Horvitz, co-owner of the Royal Room, said the short-term impact on the club would be “horrific.” Even before Inslee’s announcement, the Columbia City jazz club’s calendar had been decimated by cancellations. After a three-hour staff meeting Wednesday, Horvitz said they intended to stay open this weekend with neighborhood bands filling in for the canceled acts and capping ticket sales around one-third of capacity. But Thursday morning, they reversed course and opted to shut down through the end of March.

While Horvitz doesn’t think the long-term future of the club is in jeopardy, he said they may seek low-interest loans or other forms of financial aid to help. “I can’t imagine a club in this city that has enough equity to weather this without … help from outside sources,” he said.

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Town Hall Seattle has suspended in-person attendance at all events through the end of the month, but executive director Wier Harman said that the organization was exploring the possibility of livestreaming some events or turning them into podcasts.

ArtsFund, a local arts advocacy and grant-administration nonprofit, says it’s in talks with partners and donors to figure out next steps and how to mitigate the impact of event cancellations due to coronavirus concerns and Inslee’s proclamation.

Sue Coliton, interim president and CEO of ArtsFund, said they’re urging people to not ask for refunds, but to treat the money spent as a donation. Coliton said other foundations and government organizations (the Seattle Foundation, Artist Trust, 4Culture) are working on relief funds for artists and organizations, while arts organizations try to figure out how to proceed.

“There are so many ways to think about this,” she said. “Do organizations go ahead with events that are under 250 people? If they have a 500-seat auditorium, do they only sell half the tickets so people are sitting in every other seat? But the most important thing is about public safety. The spirit of this is to save lives — which we have to embed in everything we do.”

All events at Benaroya Hall have been canceled for March, including several performances by the Seattle Symphony. President and CEO Krishna Thiagarajan said Wednesday that the decision was made quickly, in mid-rehearsal immediately after Inslee’s press conference. He emphasized that the decision had to do with the health and well-being of musicians and patrons, with financial concerns secondary.

“We were thinking, how do we enforce the social distance that’s being recommended?” he said. “If you think about how an orchestra is arranged, you quickly realize social distancing is really a big part of why we think it’s not good right now to go on.”

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The cancellations come at an especially frustrating time for Seattle Symphony, Thiagarajan said, because the organization was on a pace for an excellent year. “We were significantly ahead by about $300,000 in our subscriptions — the best result in three years,” he said.

Kate Becker, creative economy strategist for King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office, said she’s been in communication with venues and other stakeholders about the impending decision since March 2.

“I have been working with them all consistently trying to get them ready for this,” said Becker, a longtime Seattle music and arts booster. “I’m being bombarded, as we speak, by club owners and people who have all sorts of things that hang in the balance.”

Asked about the prospect of providing economic relief funding, Becker said, “It is top of mind for all of our leaders.

The “economic impact is of grave, grave concern,” she said. “Everyone is scrambling to figure out how government and philanthropy can fortify this time that we’re all about to go through.”

This story was updated on Thursday, March 12, to include news of The Royal Room’s closure through the end of March.

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Updates from earlier in the day Wednesday, March 11:

Update 6:30 p.m.: Town Hall Seattle to offer a variety of online programming instead of “in-person” events

Though Town Hall Seattle will be suspending in-person attendance for all of its events this month — including those in its smaller performance spaces which hold fewer than 250 people – the organization plans to continue to offer a variety of programming online. “We felt we could assure the safety of our audience if we did a full shutdown of the building and used this opportunity to pursue a distance model,” said executive director Wier Harman. Prior to Wednesday, Town Hall had cancelled about a dozen events; those remaining on the calendar, Harman said, were now being considered for digital presentation.

That presentation might involve multiple options. “There are some programs that we might convert into interviews that can be podcast, or transcribed to be read,” Harman said. “Some events will be livestreamed, and those can feature audience Q&A in real time.”

It’s a direction that Town Hall has already begun exploring. “In the same way that our inexpensive ticket prices are designed to make it easy for people to participate in the community at Town Hall, the entire point for us in making our events available online is to allow people who weren’t able to be physically with us in the building for a variety of reasons — sometimes they don’t live in Seattle, sometimes they’re not very mobile, sometimes just scheduling problems. We always look to our online programming as a way of maximizing access to our content,” Harman said. Though gathering people in real time remains Town Hall’s primary work, “the next best thing is to bring people together online to provide a way for people to engage with the speakers and performance.”

Maintaining a vibrant slate of digital programming, Harman said, will help keep the organization’s hourly staff employed (Town Hall has about 45 employees total, about half of which are salaried). Though Town Hall’s ticket prices are famously low (usually $5), the loss of revenue – between tickets, venue rentals, concessions – will be “significant,” Harman said. In an email from Harman posted on the website, patrons holding tickets are told that they can apply for refunds, but that “We hope you will consider supporting Town Hall during this financially challenging time by not requesting a refund and treating the price of the ticket as a contribution.”

Information on upcoming digital delivery of Town Hall programs will begin to be available later this week, on townhallseattle.org.

Update 5:26 p.m.: Benaroya Hall events cancelled through end of March

All events at Benaroya Hall have been cancelled for March, including several performances by the Seattle Symphony. President and CEO Krishna Thiagarajan said Wednesday that the decision was made quickly, in mid-rehearsal immediately after Gov. Jay Inslee’s morning news conference. He emphasized that the decision had to do with the health and wellbeing of musicians and patrons, with financial concerns secondary.

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“We were thinking, ‘how do we enforce the social distance that’s being recommended?’ ” he said. “If you think about how an orchestra is arranged, you quickly realize social distancing is really a big part of why we think it’s not good right now to go on.”

Thiagarajan said that the canceled programs, which included a concert version of the Strauss opera “Salome,” symphonies from Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky, and string quartets by Beethoven and Shostokovich, would be rescheduled for later dates.

The cancellations come at an especially frustrating time for the Symphony, Thiagarajan said, because the organization was on pace for an excellent year. “We were significantly ahead by about $300,000 in our subscriptions — the best result in three years,” he said. “The good news is we have some reserves right now to continue paying musicians and staff, but [it’s] also difficult timing because this was going to be a very successful year. And we now have to reevaluate the outcome.”

He’s hoping Symphony patrons will continue to offer support, noting that he has donated his own next paycheck back to the organization. “If you can donate your tickets back, please do that. It will be most helpful,” he said. “I’m hoping that we will have many of our supporters find ways to help us stay in a good place, so that we come through this storm and be there for you.”

Update 3:54 p.m.: Town Hall Seattle suspends in-person attendance 

Town Hall Seattle has suspended in-person attendance at all of its events — including those in its smaller performance spaces which hold fewer than 250 people — through the end of the month. The building will be closed to the public, but executive director Wier Harman said in an email that the organization was exploring the possibility of digital delivery/livestreams of some previously announced events.

Ticket holders for Town Hall events in March can contact the organization for a refund (patronservices@townhallseattle.org), but Harman’s email said, “We also hope you will consider supporting Town Hall during this financially challenging time by not requesting a refund and treating the price of the ticket as a contribution.”

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Update 2:39 p.m.: Pacific Northwest Ballet cancels March performances

Pacific Northwest Ballet has cancelled its March performances of the “One Thousand Pieces” repertory program and “Beauty and the Beast” school performance. The Seattle branch of PNB School, following the Seattle Public Schools announcement today, will be closed for 14 days; the Bellevue branch is expected to follow suit.

PNB executive director Ellen Walker estimated that the closures will represent a loss of revenue amounting to more than a million dollars — $1.5 million if it continues through April. “It’s a massive financial impact to an organization like ours, and for every organization in this sector,” she said, emphasizing that all arts organizations are vulnerable. “We’ve all got significantly rising expenses in this region, and audiences are not growing at the same rate that the rest of the region is. We’ve all been working really hard to do the best with what we have; overwhelmingly, our resources go to putting work on stage.”

To help offset that loss, the company is hoping that ticket holders will consider donating their ticket cost, as well as subscribing to their just-announced 2020/21 season. “We obviously rely on contributed revenue and so if people are willing to make a gift to PNB it will certainly be appreciated and utilized well, in order to keep paying our employees and keep our operation going,” Walker said. PNB currently has about 800 people on its payroll, at the company and schools.

Rehearsals remain ongoing for PNB’s April production of “Giselle” and other upcoming work. Walker said the company is “grieving the loss” of the two cancelled programs — “When Peter (Boal) and I went down to speak to the company earlier today, their faces really actually kind of took my breath away, it was so sad.” But there will be a chance for audiences to get a peek at “One Thousand Pieces”: Walker said that, through the cooperation of the various artist and backstage unions, a dress rehearsal will be live-streamed for ticketholders in the next few days. “It deserves to be seen,” she said.

Update 1:52 p.m., then again at 3:25 p.m. and 7:06 p.m.: Village Theatre cancels shows March shows

Update 7:06 p.m.: Village Theatre said all performances through the end of March — including “She Loves Me” in Everett, “Hansel & Gretl & Heidi & Gunter” in Issaquah and all KIDSTAGE performances of “All That Glitters” in Issaquah have been canceled.

Update 3:25 p.m.: Village Theatre sent out an updated post at 3:25 p.m. saying it’s canceling Wednesday evening’s performances of “She Loves Me” In Everett and “Hansel & Gretl & Heidi & Gunter” in Issaquah. “Our hope is to continue all programming going forward, while limiting audience size to a 220 person limit, and following all measures as outlined in order to support the safety of audiences. However, we are taking the time this evening to better understand the proper steps we can take to execute this plan properly,” the updated post says.

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Update 1:52 p.m.: Running contrary to many other arts organizations’ decisions to cancel or postpone shows, Village Theatre intends to continue all its programming but will limit audience sizes to 220 people and follow “all measures as outlined in order to support the safety of audiences,” the theater wrote in a post on its website.

It hasn’t yet made a decision about its KIDSTAGE classes but will add updates as the theater has them, the post said.

“If you have tickets to attend a performance, and would like to reschedule to a later time or cancel, please let us know as soon as possible. Knowing if your seat will be empty will help us to make informed decisions, as well as adjust schedules for those who are now in oversold performances. The Box Office can assist with moving you to a later performance, or establishing a credit on your account for a future show,” the post says. “It is our sincere hope that you will be able to utilize your tickets and attend the theatre. That being said, this situation will be very challenging for Village Theatre. If you will not be attending, please consider donating your ticket value back to the theatre (for a tax receipt), if you are in a position to do so.”

Update 1:41 p.m.: CenturyLink Field, Tacoma Dome, Showbox postpone events

CenturyLink Field announced that all scheduled events at the stadium, its events center and WaMu Theater will be “postponed or held behind closed doors without spectators until further notice.”

The stadium’s next major concert is a scheduled May 14 date with Justin Bieber and as of Wednesday afternoon tickets were still being sold through Ticketmaster.

Other venues and promoters like the Tacoma Dome and the Showbox, which is operated by AEG, announced they are postponing events through the end of March in accordance with Inslee’s order, though the governor indicated the restrictions on gatherings will likely be extended after this month. Some shows, including a Drive-By Truckers gig at the Showbox, had already been rescheduled for later this summer.

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Update 12:58 p.m.: ArtsFund trying to mitigate impact of event cancellations 

ArtsFund, a local arts advocacy and grant-administration nonprofit, says it’s in talks with partners and donors to figure out next steps and how to mitigate the impact of event cancellations due to coronavirus concerns and Gov. Inslee’s proclamation to cancel all gatherings of more than 250 people.

“We’re working with the city’s Office of Arts and Culture to gather data and figure out economic impacts as well as programing impacts,” said Sue Coliton, interim president and CEO of ArtsFund. “We’re encouraging people to donate back their tickets if and when things are cancelled, not ask for refunds, and to think about nonprofit arts organizations they support to give generously, and give again.”

Coliton said other foundations and government organizations (the Seattle Foundation, Artist Trust, 4Culture) are working on relief funds for artists and organizations, while arts organizations try to figure out how to proceed.

“There are so many ways to think about this,” she said. “Do organizations go ahead with events that are under 250 people? If they have a 500-seat auditorium, do they only sell half the tickets so people are sitting in every other seat? But the most important thing is about public safety. The spirit of this is to save lives — which we have to embed in everything we do.”

Update 12:41 p.m.: Seattle Theatre Group  will postpone every event on calendar

While arts leaders around the city are asking patrons to consider donating their tickets instead of asking for refunds, Josh LaBelle, executive director of Seattle Theatre Group (STG), said his organization plans to postpone and reschedule every event on the calendar. Most of the events between now and March 31, the end of Gov. Inslee’s ban on gatherings of over 250 people, are concerts (Patti Smith, Dan Deacon, Bikini Kill, SAINt JHN, others) and comedy shows (Todd Barry, Deon Cole, Lewis Black, others).

“STG was already providing refunds to people who didn’t want to come 14 days out,” LaBelle said. “But the amount of refund requests were relatively mild. If I was to look at the last seven days of sales and mirror that against the amount of refunds, I’d say it was less than 10 percent refunds.”

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LaBelle thinks it’s possible to reschedule each show providing people with their original seats. “But we’re going to need people’s patience over the next month,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of work… Bottom line: Humans are good people and they’re trying to take care of each other. That goes from arts leaders and staff and patrons to artists and managers. We’ve got to take care of each other.”

Update 12:20 p.m.: Seattle Arts and Lectures canceled two major March events

Rebecca Hoogs, associate director of Seattle Arts and Lectures, said that her organization cancelled its two major March events earlier this week. Though not yet specifically advised to do so, “we were following the recommendations of King County to restrict gatherings and felt it was part of our social responsibility to make that call.” Both have been rescheduled: author Min Jin Lee will now appear June 15, and poet Rick Barot on May 15.

“Luckily, so far it hasn’t had a huge financial impact,” she said. “We are asking if people can do the new dates, and if they cannot, we’re offering them an opportunity to exchange for another event. We’re hoping they will choose those options before asking for refunds — that they will support us by keeping their ticket.”

Though the next few weeks are stable for SAL, Hoogs is concerned about what comes next: Their annual fundraiser, Words Matter 2020, is currently scheduled for April 3, and a number of author events are scheduled for the spring. “If we have to cancel our fundraiser, if we have to make mass refunds, the cost on us will be huge,” she said.

Update 12 p.m.: This isn’t good for arts organizations, but they understand the reason behind the ban on big gatherings

Arts leaders in Seattle had two main reactions to Gov. Jay Inslee’s Wednesday-morning order banning gatherings of more than 250 people through the end of the month.

First: They accept the seriousness and high-stakes nature of this public-health crisis.

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Second: They expect the 250-person ban to be a severe — and, for some organizations, potentially bankrupting — blow to the cultural health of the city.

“This is historic, and we have to keep in mind that a lot of people have died,” said Josh LaBelle, executive director of Seattle Theatre Group, whose three major venues (the Paramount, the Moore and the Neptune) have seating capacities between 1,000 and 2,807.

“But I hope that in due time our government leaders will apply the same diligence and care for our arts and culture sector as they do for the health of our society in general,” he said. “A lot of our artists and arts workers are at risk and there’s not a huge safety net. If they’re unemployed for any period of time, that could add to the health issue — and that’s not what we want to see.”

Bernadine “Bernie” Griffin, executive director of the 5th Avenue Theatre (capacity 2,130), said she and her peers were in “almost constant contact” and are hoping patrons with tickets to events between now and March 31 will consider donating their tickets instead of asking for refunds. “Our message is loud and clear,” she said. “We need you now like we’ve never needed you before. This is a crisis.”

LaBelle said he was optimistic that Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Gov. Inslee would provide life support to the arts-and-culture sector when the time comes. “I have strong respect for all three of these leader,” he said. “It’s been clear to us along the way that they’re thinking about arts and culture already.”

But David Armstrong, the longtime artistic director of the 5th, who stepped down after 18 years in 2017, is more pessimistic. “I trust the math and science behind these decisions,” he said. “What I don’t trust is that they have a plan for how to protect, or are even thinking about how to protect, the arts organizations in our region, which are always discounted. There is going to be thinking about what we need to do to sustain the economy during this crisis. We have to make sure the arts is included in this line of thinking.”

Armstrong pointed to economic impact studies from ArtsFund, which, in 2014, reported annual admission of 13.4 million people to arts and culture events and exhibitions in King, Pierce, Kitsap and Snohomish counties. The study also found that cultural organizations in King, Pierce, Kitsap and Snohomish counties generated $2.4 billion in the state economy, creating 35,376 jobs, $996 million in labor income and $105 million in taxes.

“It’s such a fragile ecosystem even on a good day,” Griffin said. “We’re going to need help. What we’ve done now is have a pretty good plan in place for 30 days. Now we have to start planning for the next 60, the next 90.”

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