NIVA’s Dayna Frank, Audrey Fix Schaefer & Tobi Parks At Pollstar Live! ‘We Don’t Take No Well In This Industry’
– Rainmaker Q&A At Pollstar Live!
Tobi Parks (left) moderates a Rainmaker: Voices Of Live Q&A with Audrey Fix Schaefer and Dayna Frank on June 16, 2021
For an industry desperately seeking assistance during the pandemic with restrictions on mass gatherings, the work of the National Independent Venue Association’s board members brought hope of survival and the promise that aid will soon rain down via the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant (SVOG) program – which includes over $16 billion (!) in grants to be distributed to shuttered venues.
A few of the folks that put in countless hours to make the SVOG program (initially known as the Save Our Stages Act) a reality took the stage at Pollstar Live! June 16 for a “Rainmaker: Voices Of Live” intimate Q&A. Tobi Parks, who is NIVA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion task force chair and the owner of xBK Live in Des Moines, Iowa, as well as Business & Legal Affairs, Lawyer at Sony Music Entertainment moderated a discussion between Dayna Frank, president of NIVA and CEO of Minneapolis’ First Avenue and the 7th St. Entry and Audrey Fix Schaefer, board member of NIVA and head of communications for I.M.P. (which operates Washington D.C.-area venues 9:30 Club, The Anthem, Merriweather Post Pavilion and and the Lincoln Theatre).
“One thing that we knew we had to do was to be able to articulate the desperate situation that we were in and make people really care that never had to care about our industry before,” Schaefer said about the early days of NIVA, which formed in March 2020 days after COVID-19 brought live events to a halt.
After 75 independent venues and stakeholders took part in a town hall call on March 12 organized by Independent Venue Week to discuss the COVID-19 crisis, NIVA was formed to lobby the federal government for economic relief, with a mission “to preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent venues and promoters throughout the United States.” NIVA grew to 450 members within two days and now features more than 3,000 independent venues in 50 states.
Schaefer explained how it was key to get artists on board so they could write their Congressional representatives and get their fans to support NIVA’s legislation. NIVA members utilized their email lists to get the support of fans who “really cared about us coming back.” More than 2.1 million people contacted their representatives in support of NIVA, which Schaefer noted “is unheard of in D.C.”
One of the strongest points that NIVA made while attracting the support of the general public and Congressional representatives is that the music industry is not just L.A. or New York or Nashville.
“It’s every town, like Bakersfield [California] has the Fox Theater that lights up the entire city,” Frank said. “It’s towns across the USA.”
She explained that NIVA got venues engaged so when the organization went in to lobby, it wasn’t just the venue owner, but the hotel down the block, the restaurant next door, all rallying around what the venues mean to their communities.
Schaefer added, “For every dollar spent in a music venue, $12 is spent in local establishments. So, no matter where they are, it helps the community. If we go under it affects the entire community. It’s not a red issue or a blue issue – it’s a green issue.”
Parks noted that venue owners had to get the message across that even with more lenient COVID reopening policies across the stateliness, “just because the governor of Iowa says the state is open, it takes time to set up the tours … it’s not just a turnkey thing where we’re open. It takes time.”
NIVA members had a lot of technical explaining to do, which Schaefer notes that they had never did before because they didn’t want to. She said, “It was always come to our doors and have a good time, forget your troubles.”
NIVA was able to get bipartisan sponsored in the most contentious Congress by articulating to Congress what was in it for their constituents.
Part of the strategy was researching politicians’ favorite bands and then reaching out to those bands and asking if they’d do a one-on-one call with the representatives.
“It was really successful,” Frank said. “Not every time – but we’d try anything. … Here’s this person loves country music, so we’re going to find the country venues. Or this person doesn’t go to shows but their kid loves going to shows … there are music lovers everywhere.”
The Rainmaker Q&A discussed how there were moments during the legislative process that were so devastating as NIVA got so close to getting support, but then Congress couldn’t agree on the other COVID relief bills, so Save Our Stages didn’t get help. And then finally it happened in December – after waiting days for President Trump to sign the $900 billion pandemic relief package.
“We don’t take no well in this industry,” Frank said. “We just keep pushing. We didn’t know whether it would be our friends’ clubs but we knew 90 percent of our industry wouldn’t survive [without relief] There was no plan B.
“We’d explain these are small business, they don’t have access to stockholders money, they invested their live savings, their dreams into these venues. You can’t calibrate from a pandemic without assistance. They’re draining their 401k and their kids’ college funds. This is the only way we can avoid a mass collapse of the industry.”
The SVOG program is open to live venue operators or promoters, theatrical producers, live performing arts organizations operators, museum operators, motion picture theater operators (including owners) and talent representatives.
While the process of actually getting relief to applicants has been a headache as SBA grant processing lags, Frank told the audience at the Q&A, “The awards have started going out. They say by July 4 the most in-need businesses will be fully funded.”
Schaefer added, “And we hope that’s true,” drawing laughs from the crowd.
“The only thing worse than people not having funds would be to not have this program,” Frank said.
Asked what’s the next step for NIVA after saving venues, Frank said, “First we need to reopen. Advocacy will always be a part of what we do. … We’re def not done in the political scene. … We want to do things that can be impactful and can make a difference, that can [bring about] substantial changes. We have the network … we have everything we need.”
Looking toward the future, NIVA plans to change the association so members will pay to be a part of it. Schaefer noted, “Now that we found each other, we don’t want to let go. Who knew that independent venue owners could agree on anything?”
Motioning toward Frank, Schaefer added, “As this fine woman said, ‘First we survive, then we thrive.’”
As the industry returns, Parks is one NIVA member who is looking forward to the positive changes that can be made in the industry as far as making the business more inclusive and diverse. She pointed out that she’s “one of the only queer black woman in the country that owns a venue.”
Parks went on to say that by opening her venue in September 2019 xBK Live was closed longer than they were open – “NIVA literally saved me. …
“It’s amazing to have this network now I can call … For queer women of color and all minority business owners to also have mentorship and to be able to have people we can count on and rely on, that’s going to make me more successful and you more successful and the whole industry more successful.”