California Venues Call For State-Level Relief, ‘One Year Dark’ Marquee Campaign Plotted

Jane Tyska / Digital First Media / East Bay Times / Getty Images
– One Year Dark
On March 13, many venues will participate in a marquee campaign to keep attention on their plight. Another Planet Entertainment employees have played a key role in California advocacy efforts; here, the Fox Theatre, an Oakland, Calif., venue operated by APE, displays a message to passerby on March 16, 2020.

Live events professionals from coast to coast rightly praised Congress for securing passage of the $15 billion Save Our Stages Act in late December to provide federal relief to venues suffering financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

But while the Save Our Stages Act grabbed headlines, efforts have been underway in a slew of states to secure additional state-level relief. Several – red, blue, small, large, rural, urban – have provided such relief, making the lethargic government response by America’s most populous state and largest economy all the more conspicuous. 

“We’ve seen other states take some action: Oregon, Colorado, Maryland, Indiana, Wisconsin,” says Another Planet Entertainment’s Casey Lowdermilk, who serves as assistant general manager of San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and has taken a leading role in advocating for state-level relief in California. “There’s no reason why California can’t recognize that and can’t step up to the plate.” 

In recent months, Lowdermilk and Another Planet director of production Roger Picone have undergone a crash course in advocacy and lobbying. The two began as precinct captains with the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) last summer, supporting the organization’s nationwide efforts while also looking at ways to bolster state and local support. 

“We were kind of surprised that there wasn’t anything happening locally,” Lowdermilk says. “We’ve had to build these regional and state coalitions from the ground up, and get the train moving in the right direction.” 

Since November, regional coalitions have coalesced in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, Monterey Bay and other parts of California, and Lowdermilk, Picone and others have marshaled these groups into a full-fledged lobbying effort to convince Governor Gavin Newsom and the California state legislature to take action. 

“The Shuttered Venue program [stipulated by the SOS Act] is really going to help us for what already happened, this last 12 months,” Picone says. “The stimulus we’re looking for from California is really to get us from that finish line to keep going.” 

Legislators are taking notice. In February, Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, who represents Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles neighborhoods including Los Feliz and Silver Lake, wrote along with a handful of her peers to legislative leadership to urge relief for the sector. 

“Our music venues were the first to close and will be the last to reopen,” Friedman tells Pollstar in a statement. “These establishments are major cultural and economic institutions that create tens of thousands of jobs and drive revenue into our local economies. By making smart investments in their survival, we’ll be investing in the communities that need them and ensuring we can keep the social and financial benefits through and beyond this pandemic.”

Like NIVA nationally, the California effort’s pitch revolves around the simple notion that live venues are economic drivers for their communities. 

“We saw the success of federal-level [advocacy], and it’s easily translatable at local and state governments,” Lowdermilk says. “Regardless of what party you’re in, the economics of venues speak loudly. For every one dollar spent at a venue, $12 is generated in the local economy. Regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on, you get that and you understand the value to your community.” 

What might state-level relief look like in California? Approaches have varied from state to state in scope and size, but Lowdermilk points to Indiana, which assessed the SOS Act’s Shuttered Venue Operator Grants – providing up to 45% of a venue’s 2019 revenue – and pledged to add an additional 20% in relief. 

Relief can also happen municipally. In San Francisco, efforts by the San Francisco Venue Coalition, which Lowdermilk and Picone co-founded, yielded the $1.5 million San Francisco Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund to help the city’s cherished venues. 

Concurrently, Lowdermilk explains that many venue advocates are seeking policy relief – easing permit structures or local taxes, for instance – to smooth live’s return. 

Little progress will be secured until May, when California events professionals hope relief for the sector will be included in legislative revisions to the governor’s budget. 

But venues will continue to ratchet up the pressure. On March 13, many venues will participate in a “One Year Dark” marquee campaign to keep attention on their plight. 

“It’s a long road here for events to get back,” says Picone, “and we know it’s gonna be this patchwork of government relief at all levels to get us there.”