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Save Our Stages: Wisconsin venues plead with Congress for financial relief in next COVID-19 aid package

After going dark in the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic and anticipating no more public performances for the rest of 2020, independent concert venues mobilized this week to get public backing for federal legislation to rescue them financially.

In Wisconsin, 72 independent venues have signed on to the effort, ranging from the Pabst and Riverside theaters in Milwaukee and the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison to Big Top Chautauqua in Bayfield and the Mineral Point Opera House.

In good times, independent performing arts venues can generate up twelve times the income for surrounding businesses — night spots, restaurants or hotels, for instance — for every dollar that the venue takes in, claims the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) in a statement issued this week.

But they have been “among the hardest hit by a pandemic: first to close and will be among the last to re-open,” the 2,400-member association declared. NIVA stated that most of them will remain closed “well into 2021” because of the health hazard that large gatherings pose in the pandemic, cutting off their main revenue source: acts that tour the United States.

Nine out of 10 such organizations have reportedly warned that they cannot survive six months without “meaningful support from Congress,” states the association, which was formed just as the pandemic was shutting down member locations.

Venues are looking to the Save Our Stages Act (S. 4258) and the RESTART Act (S. 3814/HR 7481), hoping that one or both bills are included in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation from Congress.

The bills would provide financial aid, in the form of grants or Small Business Administration loans, to qualifying establishments. Both have bipartisan sponsors. NIVA has been mobilizing concert fans to register support, and it has so far collected 1.3 million letters of support, the organization said.

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