Keeping Hope Alive: Adam Hartke Discusses NIVA’s Lobbying Efforts

– Adam Hartke
More than seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that the live industry has been one of the hardest hit in the U.S. Pollstar has been reporting on the status of legislation aimed at saving the live industry, specifically the RESTART Act and the Save Our Stages Act, for months, and  the charge has largely been led by the National Independent Venue Association. At publication time NIVA informed Pollstar that the Save Our Stages Act had just secured its 200th cosponsor.

As the election looms large in just mere weeks, Pollstar spoke with Adam Hartke, co-chair of NIVA’s advocacy committee. He owns the venue Wave and is a partner in The Cotillion Ballroom in Wichita, Kan., and books Wichita Riverfest, which for the first time since 1970 did not stage. 
Pollstar: How has the shutdown impacted your businesses? 

Hartke: The venues we operate are running on fumes. We have been closed for seven months with negative revenue, we are over 100% revenue loss because we are doing so many ticket refunds. With the big spaces we have, with mortgages, utilities, the expenses are so high. We’ve gotten so little relief, and the relief we did get through PPP or EIDL loans, or some states have given grants, but those have all been a band aid. Many people have burned through those funds already and are running on fumes, like us, and facing a catastrophic situation.
Without federal aid, we are going to see a catastrophic loss of independent venues all over the country. Up to 90 percent of venues will close without help.
Was the #DoNotAbandonUs campaign a response to people not caring about venues? 

Well I think there’s a lot of people that do care. We’ve had more than 2 million emails sent to Congress on our behalf. Save Our Stages Fest was recently held online, that was presented by YouTube, Bud Light Seltzer, and Google. The artists, Foo Fighters, Miley Cyrus, Brittany Howard, Major Lazer, all these people truly do care what happens to independent venues. Even within the government in Congress, we are up to over 200 people supporting us. I don’t think it’s a lack of care, I think it’s what is happening currently in Washington and the fact that there hasn’t been a deal made on another round of stimulus isn’t just affecting venues, but workers, people facing eviction, it’s affecting our whole country. So it’s not just us being left out in the cold, it’s in the whole country at this point.
The #DoNotAbandonUs campaign was a cry for help not only from our industry, but other industries, the restaurant associations, all the other small businesses across the country, the workers that rely on those businesses to stay employed and keep their houses. That was from us as a country: Don’t abandon us.
So why can’t any aid get into a relief bill and passed through Congress?

When you have people running solely on what they think will get them elected and not what is the right thing to do, then you find the rest of the people in the country falling victim to that. It’s not about doing what’s right and helping people and approaching it from a compassionate standpoint, it’s getting through an election and [politicians’] electability. 

Would the narrow bills containing just PPP and a few other small measures be enough to help venues navigate the coming months?

Absolutely not. Another round of PPP won’t save venues. The skinny bill that’s been proposed, without Save Our Stages in it, won’t save venues. That doesn’t help us.
PPP was set up to be a couple months of support, but we have been shuttered for seven months now. Our businesses in Wichita received PPP loans and those loans were spent by early June, and since then we’ve gotten no assistance. Not only that, but even we are able to open next year, at that point we are going to be so drained of revenue and will only be opening at partial capacity, so money isn’t going to be what our revenue models and business plans were based on. They were based on a full amount, and our bills reflect that, so when we open at 25, 30 or 50% capacity it’s going to be this never-ending uphill battle to try to scrape by. So the recovery is going to take a long time, and that’s where Save Our Stages Act comes in, it gets us through and helps us recover, whereas PPP basically does nothing for us. 
So tell me about the work of NIVA’s advocacy committee, how is it structured?

We have precinct captains in almost every state, each one is organizing on the ground level and working with the venues in their precincts, getting everybody organized, reaching out to their representatives and their senators, and having these discussions, letting them know what’s happening. Seven months ago if you asked a representative or a senator about independent venues, they probably would have no idea what you were talking about. Now many of them across the country are fully versed in what it takes to do shows and it’s because of our precinct captains and the organizing they have done on the grassroots level to really inform everybody in Congress of what’s going on. …
But if folks haven’t gone to and sent a letter to their elected officials, please do that. That is what’s actually  pushing the needle for us.

So what is the mood of the advocacy committee right now?

Everybody is highly energized. We are fighting for the survival of what we’ve worked for decades to build, so there is no room for complacency or passiveness. We’re all venue owners, we do this because we love it not because we are looking to make a billion dollars or because we think it’s cool, it’s something we love and we are passionate about it.  It’s a lot of Type-A personalities, a lot of people that are used to calling the shots and promoting shows, doing everything else it takes to run a business. Obviously we’ve hit a lot of road bumps and had some frustrations throughout this whole process, but we feel good about where we’re at. 

What is your hope for this election?

My hope with the election is that we can get past the divisiveness that has plagued our country. In doing so, I think we will see a stimulus passed and it will have positive outcomes for everybody in the country, not just for us. 
This is not a partisan issue. We have a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans supporting this bill. Everybody loves music, and if you look at the swathes of genres that were created here in America, it hits pretty much every demographic that lives in America. This isn’t a political issue, it’s an issue of preserving culture and preserving the art of music within America. I think the election is hugely impactful but at the end of the day, no matter the outcome, I hope people can find a way to get back together and work towards helping each other.