When we closed our theaters to live performances in March, we put a hopeful message on the marquee of the Paramount: “This is just intermission. We’ll see you soon.”
With each day, our initial hopes have been overcome by a stark reality: We expect to be completely shut down well into next year and possibly all of 2021. Like other arts and culture organizations, Seattle Theatre Group, which operates Seattle’s three historic theaters (Paramount, Moore, Neptune), has already had to lay off or furlough the vast majority of our staff.
With those closures and layoffs, no end in sight and very little (if any) earned revenue for seven months, the creative economy — and the people and businesses it supports — is in need of a real lifeline. Our entire sector is very at risk, particularly independent arts venues and not-for-profit arts organizations. Institutions large and small that are the cultural lifeblood of our community are hanging on for dear life.
Closing theaters and music venues has been a critical part of keeping everyone safe. We know we have an important role to play in the public-health response, but we also need financial assistance to be able to reopen the doors when it is safe to do so. Without significant support, many of the beloved venues across the region and our country are at risk of permanently closing.
Under Washington’s phased approach to reopening, live music and performing arts venues will be the last to get back to business. Doing so requires musical acts and theater companies to be touring, which will take time to get back up and running. To be economically viable, especially for larger productions like Broadway musicals, we need to be able to open at full capacity. Even when we get the green light to open, it will take time to rehire staff in order to open our doors and start the show.
More than seven months into this crisis, the losses from shuttered venues are affecting the entire artistic and cultural ecosystem, including artists, stagehands, security, catering, tour-bus operators, production, local advertising, arts educators, audiences and many others. The economic impacts are staggering, and the cultural and emotional impacts on our local communities from the San Juan Islands to Spokane are impossible to measure.
Congress is currently considering bipartisan bills that would make a huge difference for Washington’s arts and culture organizations. Previous federal relief programs, like the Paycheck Protection Act, have not been sufficient to help organizations and venues that will remain shuttered for many, many months and are in need of flexible, long-term support.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed as part of its latest relief package a version of the Save Our Stages Act to create a $10 billion grant program for live-venue operators. Senate Democrats have pushed for its inclusion in relief packages the Senate majority and White House refuse to advance. These grants would offer at least six months of financial support to keep arts organizations like us afloat, pay employees and preserve a critical economic ecosystem for our community.
Neighboring states have prioritized relief for arts and culture organizations, venues, and performers. Oregon allocated $50 million from its federal relief dollars and Montana provided direct grants to artists and venues. We are eager to see what Washington state can provide. It is time for our leaders to demonstrate a strong financial commitment to arts and cultural organizations, local artists and the creative economy in Washington state.
This has been an incredibly painful time for all of us. As we continue to meet the critical needs of people who are hungry, and need shelter and health care, we must also pay attention to the economic health of our region and the people, organizations and places that make it thrive.