Theater News

UPDATE: New COVID Bill Offers Lifeline for Pablo Center, Other Venues

Congress passes bill that includes $15B for shuttered venues

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

The Pablo Center at the Confluence in downtown Eau Claire.
The Pablo Center at the Confluence in downtown Eau Claire.

The $900 billion pandemic relief bill passed by Congress late Monday includes a lot of things: direct payments to Americans, additional jobless benefits for those impacted by COVID-19, rental relief, and aid to hard-hit businesses. At a reported 5,593 pages, there’s a lot to process.

While it hasn’t grabbed as many headlines, the legislation – which President Donald Trump is expected to sign in the coming days – also contains a lifeline for theaters and other performances venues: The giant bill encompassed the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act, which will provide $15 billion in relief to live music venues, movie theaters, museums, and similar entities.

That’s music to the ears of Jason Jon Anderson, executive director of the Pablo Center at the Confluence, who has advocated for the needs of venues nationwide for months as a leader in the National Independent Venue Association, a trade group formed when the pandemic hit last spring.

“This is the largest arts funding bill ever approved in the United States,” Anderson said Tuesday. Provided that the Pablo Center gets the amount of money it hopes for once the program is implemented in the coming weeks, “This is the final lifeline we need, at least for the Pablo Center,” Anderson added.

The aid to venues will come via the U.S. Small Business Administration, which will issue grants that “provide six months of financial support to keep venues afloat, pay employees, and preserve a critical economic sector for communities across America,” according to the office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

The Pablo Center and several other Chippewa Valley performance-related businesses and organizations – including the Blue Ox Music Festival, the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, Country Jam USA, the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild, and the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre – have been part of NIVA, a 3,000-member advocacy group that was formed in the face of the pandemic last spring.

According to the organization, “The legislation provides critical help to shuttered businesses by providing a grant equal to 45% of gross revenue from 2019, with a cap of $10 million per entity. This grant funding will ensure recipients can stay afloat until reopening by helping with expenses like payroll and benefits, rent and mortgage, utilities, insurance, PPE, and other ordinary and necessary business expenses.”

This is the lifeline our industry so desperately needs to emerge from a devastating year.



Anderson said the Pablo Center estimates it could receive as much as $1.6 million through the new legislation. This is in addition to the $500,000 raised from local donors via the Pablo Center’s “Bridge Campaign” this year.

Anderson is optimistic this will be enough to ensure that the Pablo Center survives to reopen later in 2021 – provided that the COVID-19 vaccine reaches large numbers of people in the coming months. “It depends on how long COVID-19 continues to impact large indoor gatherings,” he said. “If we’re open as we anticipate to be in the third quarter … then we have a very bright future and will not need additional funds.”

However, delays in the vaccine and continued restrictions on large gatherings could mean the Pablo Center and its peers would need additional funds, Anderson said.

Once Trump signs the bill, the work of implementing its provisions will begin within the federal government. Anderson expects the SBA to take four to six weeks to get the program up and running and a few more weeks to get funds flowing out to the hardest-hit venues. (For the program’s first 14 days, applications will be restricted to venues who lost 90% or more of their revenue, a group that includes the Pablo Center.) Funds should be dispersed beginning in late February, Anderson estimated.

“We should see considerable benefits across the Chippewa Valley and the state of Wisconsin,” Anderson said.

“This is the lifeline our industry so desperately needs to emerge from a devastating year,” said Dayna Frank, Owner & CEO, First Avenue Productions and Board President of NIVA. “Without independent venues and promoters across the country working to engage their communities, staff, and artists, our voices would not have been heard – we are thankful for those tireless efforts. Careers came to a standstill overnight, and people continue to face personal hardships, which is why legislation like this and extending Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is essential. Our immense gratitude goes, in particular, to Senator Klobuchar, Senator Cornyn, and Senator Schumer, for securing the future of independent venues and promoters for generations to come.”

According to a media release from Klobuchar’s office, “Small live music and entertainment venues have been hard-hit during the coronavirus pandemic, with 90% of venue owners, promoters, and bookers reporting they are at risk of closing without additional financial assistance and an estimated $9 billion in losses should ticket sales not resume until 2021.”

Anderson offered the following statement in a media release from the Pablo Center:

“We are so grateful for the support provided by our representatives for the creative economy, the third largest driver of Wisconsin’s economy,” says Anderson. “The cultural impact of our venues on our local communities is priceless. Our stages give artists their start. Our very own GRAMMY Award winning artists like Al Jarrau and Bon Iver, musical artists like BoDeans, Chris Kroeze, Cory Chisel, Les Paul, Michael Perry, Phil Cook, Sean Carey, and Violent Femmes launched their careers playing in our venues. Independent venues and promoters are crucial components of the music industry’s ecosystem, without whom there will be dire ramifications for artists as fan spending plummets.

“Our businesses were among the first to close as COVID-19 spread across the country, and unfortunately, are also likely to be among the last to reopen. In Wisconsin, our NIVA Members represent 3,000 employees, 2.8 million individual tickets sold annually, that equates to $59.8 million of direct annual revenue that has been impacted in the state. Our venue members have lost and will continue to lose $4.98 million per month across Wisconsin, over that is $44.8 million of collective lost revenue since March. Moreover, entertainment hubs serve as revenue generators for neighboring businesses such as restaurants, hotels, and retail. One Chicago study found that every $1 spent on a ticket at a small independent venue equated to $12 of economic activity. By those standards NIVA venue closures are leading to $717.6 million of lost economic activity in Wisconsin this last year alone; combined with lost ticket revenue, venues and surrounding businesses continue to lose $64.78 million a month in the Badger state. The Save Our Stages Act and state of Wisconsin Department of Administration “We’re All In” Grants will help ensure these businesses can survive and springboard our communities back following the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Learn more about the National Independent Venue Association at their website.