Home Around Town NIVA 2023: Independent Venues Make Vital Contributions to Local Communities and Economies

NIVA 2023: Independent Venues Make Vital Contributions to Local Communities and Economies

NIVA 2023: Independent Venues Make Vital Contributions to Local Communities and Economies
Philadelphia Night Mayor Raheem Manning addresses NIVA 2023 during a panel at Union Stage on July 10, 2023. (Photo by Steve Satzberg)

In 2020, independent arts and entertainment venues organized and advocated for financial assistance in the face of a COVID pandemic that shut down institutions and threatened to drive them out of business. Federal advocacy spearheaded by the National Independent Venues Association resulted in a $15 billion fund for the resulting Save Our Stages Act.

This federal grant program was the “largest investment in arts and culture in the history of the world,” as characterized by Music Policy Forum’s Michael Brady during a panel of the NIVA 2023 convention at Union Stage in Washington, DC, last week.

NIVA engaged in state and local advocacy at that time as well, but the organization and its allies have crystallized those efforts in the wake of the tremendous federal victory. Officials and advocates discussed the form of some state and local initiatives in that NIVA panel on July 10.

Raheem Manning, Philadelphia’s Director of Night Time Economy and Business Development, called upon music venues to look at how they can fully plug into the community around them. An analysis of their impact on crime, for example, could yield data that speaks to the value of music venues and their place in youth culture.

In Philadelphia, for example, Manning, who is also known as the city’s “night mayor,” administers a great program that awards music venues $1,500-$2,000 for participating in a monthly Teens Night Out. Institutions around the city host an event specifically for teens. World Cafe Live in Philadelphia is one such institution that participates, hosting an open mic night for teens or hiring teen DJs for age-appropriate parties. The municipal grants help places like World Cafe Live cover expenses for the event.

“There hasn’t been a lot of teen entertainment in our post-COVID world,” Manning said. “They’ve been locked out, so they find their own fun.”

Giving teens an outlet like Teens Night Out produces a safer environment for them and for the community, Manning suggested. “I always look at the creative economy as a problem-solving tool,” he said.

Shayna Melgaard, Senior Talent Buyer for Sue McLean & Associates, and Chair of the Minnesota Independent Venue Alliance (MNIVA), encouraged conference attendees to get to know officials and lawmakers and have conversations with them about their needs. When Minnesota venues saw that Wisconsin established a live entertainment grants program, they rallied to support the concept in their own state.

Getting to know how officials and lawmakers connect to live music helps to facilitate those conversations. For example, the Minnesota governor is a known fan of the band Gear Daddies, and so he may more quickly connect to a conversation about how venues support the band’s livelihood, Melgaard said.

Sean Watterson, Co-Owner of The Happy Dog, a venue in Cleveland, Ohio, said arts establishments have formed the Cleveland Music and Comedy Club Coalition to advocate to government agencies.

“We are putting our focus in defining arts and culture as a three-legged stool: nonprofits, artists and musicians, and arts-based businesses,” Watterson said. Even now, agencies tend to think of arts funding in terms of only nonprofits.

The Cleveland Music and Comedy Club Coalition is in conversation with officials about supporting renewal of a county cigarette tax that funds arts initiatives. But 98 percent of the tax funds go to nonprofits, and 2 percent goes to artists, Watterson said.

“We learned during COVID that this is an ecosystem,” he elaborated. “We are happy to participate in the grassroots efforts to make sure this tax passes, but we want to look at the allocation. We want more money to go to the artists. Then also we want to recognize that the venues and other arts-bases businesses that make up the arts and cultures that define your community.”

Watterson said he would consider the effort to reallocate the tax funds a success even if the result is to provide artists with a bigger percentage of the money.

Panel participants agreed that venues could make strong arguments for their place in communities by estimating their economic impact. Venues offer employment, and music patrons support surrounding businesses by spending money for food, parking, and other expenses while engaging with music venues.

NIVA’s website offers an economic impact estimator, Melgaard said, allowing a venue to input its capacity and the frequency of its shows. The calculator then estimates how many jobs the venue supports and how much money it contributes to the local economy.

The Music Venue Economic Impact Calculator is available on NIVA’s website.


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