#SupportCanadianVenues to help them survive COVID

This has been a rough few months for concert lovers, but it could turn into the end of the road for some venues. 

Think of your favourite independent venue, where you’ve seen some incredible shows and where great memories were formed. Now imagine if those venues were closed forever, and the bands that performed there struggled to find another stage.

That’s the reality facing independent venues across North America, now three months into a shutdown prompted by COVID-19 safety concerns. 

As bars and restaurants start to open, slowly across the country, there’s no relief in sight for small venues. 

The Canadian Live Music Association, in partnership with the Canadian Independent Venue Coalition, has started the #SupportCanadianVenues effort to advocate for emergency funding and an economic recovery program to help support venues and touring in Canada. 

Remember, it’s not just musicians that are missing out on funds from concerts and touring, regardless of the size of the show. It’s bartenders, coat checkers, ticket checkers, parking attendants, people who work merch tables and security guards, to name a few. 

“Without the rapid deployment of aid to the sector and extended minimum wage subsidies or the many directly employed in live entertainment, the prognosis is bleak,” FYI Music News notes. “To this end, a consortium of alliances has been feverishly working overtime to poll its constituents and pull data for use in briefs that are being used to educate, update and lobby government at all levels.” 

Think this might not change the music venues in your city? Here’s a list to review. It might change your mind.

Heritage Canada has released a $500 million relief plan to “help arts and culture orgs affected by the epidemic,” with up to $20 million earmarked for businesses in the music industry. This would touch the lives of an estimated 70,000 workers, at a minimum. 

Bands, of course, are jumping on board to help keep venues alive. 

“The Ministry of Heritage needs to see this music industry as an important aspect of Canadian culture, and we’re just looking for some guidance, and most importantly some support,” Brandan Canning of Broken Social Scene told Exclaim!

“I spent most of my life growing up in these smaller venues playing shows, learning how to be a better band,” added Chris Slorach of METZ. “I think that they’re super important for the culture landscape, of at least my own city Toronto, and many other places. I think they deserve support, we need to help our independent venues because they’ll continue to help us.”

Need a bottom line kind of figure to explain how big a problem this might be? 

“Recent industry research indicates that 96% of the independent music industry across Canada, including over 90% of independent venues, will disappear in the next six months without receiving a significant financial aid package,” the Edmonton Journal reports. 

In addition to asking fans to write their elected officials, CIVIC is also calling on musicians to share their stories of how these venues have helped shape their careers and what they mean to them.

Music venues were not included in the $500 million COVID-19-related arts and culture relief package the government released on May 8. The package designated most of the money for nonprofit organizations and groups with pre-existing relationships with the government at any level. 

“The spot we’re fighting for is the $20 million that has been left in place for consideration to fund a very broad group of people that have been left out — arenas, festivals, Live Nation, all the way down to local independent venues,” says Tyson Boyd, owner of Edmonton’s Starlite Room. “Agents have been left out, managers have been left out and a lot of music venues are wondering what the future might hold.” 

So what can fans do? They’re being encouraged to write their local and province-level elected officials, urging them to do whatever they can to help save the Canadian music scene. This isa similar effort to the #SaveOurStages campaign in the United States, but in truth there are bands that (ordinarily) hop across the border and play shows in both countries. (The ability to drive easily across the border to see bands is a major perk of living in the Western New York/Southern Ontario/Golden Horseshoe area.) 

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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