For Joshua Gass, managing director of the Bangor Arts Exchange, the passage of the Save Our Stages Act on Monday as part of the $900 billion virus relief package is some of the only good news he’s had all year.
The $15 billion in funding is meant to prop up independent performance venues that have virtually all been closed since the pandemic struck in March, with most reporting at least 75 percent revenue losses for the year. Unlike other industries such as restaurants and retail — which can still offer curbside and delivery services and potentially survive at reduced capacity — venues simply cannot do business at all given the capacity restrictions imposed in the majority of states, including Maine.
“In the face of 75 to 80 percent revenue losses for the year, support funding for a venue like BAE will make the difference on whether we are able to maintain operations and remain a cornerstone in Bangor’s arts and cultural scene,” Gass said. “Obviously this has been a difficult time for many businesses, but unfortunately for us, we cannot easily take our product curbside.”
The bill was co-sponsored in the Senate by both Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and in the House by Rep. Chellie Pingree from Maine’s 1st District.
The Save Our Stages Act specifically helps independent venues — like the Bangor Arts Exchange and the State Theatre and Portland House of Music, both in Portland — as well as independent movie theaters and nonprofit organizations that operate performance spaces. The legislation does not provide relief for corporations such as Live Nation, the publicly traded company that books shows at venues such as the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor and the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford, New Hampshire.
Lauren Wayne, the general manager of State Theatre Presents, knows well how uniquely devastating the pandemic has been for the live events industry. In July, her company had to permanently close Port City Music Hall, a 500-seat venue that was renowned regionally for supporting up and coming artists. The venue’s former location remains empty, located on a busy, prominent section of Congress Street. The company also runs the State Theatre and Thompson’s Point in Portland, but both have been closed and not taking in revenue.
Wayne said she can finally breathe a sigh of relief now that targeted funding will be available to venue operators like her. She was also heartened to learn that according to the National Independent Venue Association, the organization that spearheaded the effort to pass the Save Our Stages Act, one in 83 Mainers sent emails in support of the act to their members of Congress, the highest rate of any state.
“Save Our Stages will literally do just that — save many of us and help us to return to work, reopen our doors when it’s safe to do so, re-hire our entire staff and continue to contribute to our local communities and economies,” Wayne said. “It’s been a long year full of many, many lows and very few highs, and I am happy to end the year on this high note.”