Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still no telling when Washington music venues will be able to reopen. Good news has been scarce for local club owners, but this week nearly three dozen received a bit of financial relief.
King County announced Tuesday the recipients of $750,000 in grants to help soften some of the blow to shuttered music halls, ranging from neighborhood hangouts the Royal Room and Clock-Out Lounge to mid-sized hot spots the Crocodile and Neumos, up to the larger Neptune Theatre. The money is designed to be used for covering expenses such as rent or mortgage payments, payroll and utilities during a time when venues have little to no money coming in.
“We must do everything possible to help our small businesses and arts and cultural organizations emerge from the crisis alive, well, and ready to put thousands of people back to work,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a news release. “By carefully and thoughtfully helping with rent, payroll and other expenses, we can help ensure that more of our cultural touchstones survive and continue to contribute to the vitality of our region.”
The funds are part of a $2 million pot of federal CARES Act money the county steered toward music venues and other arts, culture and science organizations. Half of the money went to science organizations, with the Pacific Science Center Foundation ($265,350), the Cougar Mountain Zoo ($230,000) and the Seattle Aquarium Society ($206,000) receiving the highest amounts. A smaller $250,000 slice was divvied up between various theaters and arts groups, including the Seattle Repertory Theater, Bellevue Arts Museum and the Highline Heritage Museum in Burien. (View the complete list of recipients here.)
The majority of the 35 music venues were awarded $19,500 grants, with a handful landing $40,000 and others $10,000. Nearly all of the venues that applied received some portion of the funds, said Kate Becker, Constantine’s creative economy strategist, who serves as a liaison between the county and local arts organizations. In order to be eligible, venues had to be independently owned, have a capacity of under 1,000 people and produce live music or DJ nights at least three times a week on average.
“We were intentionally trying not to have like Friday night bar cover band situations come in as a music venue,” Becker explained.
Significant priority was given to “legacy” clubs that have been in business 15-plus years and those owned by women and members of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) and LGBTQ+ communities. Venues awarded the highest $40,000 tier include downtown staples Jazz Alley and the Triple Door, the Crocodile, El Corazon, Wallingford funk den Sea Monster Lounge, the Century Ballroom and Central District restaurant and nightclub Red Lounge, which hosts reggae, dance hall and Afrobeat nights. Nearly all the venues are within Seattle city limits.
While any sort of financial aid is welcome for ailing clubs, the grants are hardly a panacea for a beleaguered live music industry. The $19,500 award Ballard’s Tractor Tavern received, for example, is only enough to cover what owner Dan Cowan estimated this spring to be one month of expenses. And that was after whittling staff down to a skeleton crew working on reduced pay.
Still, the grants come after venues across the country watched in disappointment as Congress adjourned for its summer recess without approving relief funds sought by the newly formed National Independent Venue Association. Meanwhile, a local coalition of venues dubbed the Washington Nightlife Music Association has beat the drum at home, lobbying Washington officials for aid.