On December 21, 2020, Congress passed the $15 billion Save Our Stages Act as part of the COVID Relief Bill. I’m hearing from a lot of people that my industry “must be okay” now. Well… not so fast.
While the Save Our Stages Act was very much needed to keep our small independent venues, like Minneapolis’ First Avenue, alive, it doesn’t go far enough. It helps the small venues stay afloat by covering their operating losses, but it doesn’t help pay the every-day gig worker, who supports events at those venues.
And then people say… “Congress is not prioritizing the money correctly. There are people standing in food lines, and they give it to the arts? Who cares about the arts! Why aren’t they giving it to restaurants, where people are REALLY in need?”
I’m here to tell you why you should care. About the Arts and all the rest of the Live Events Industry, in which I have been employed for the last 19 years of my career. These ARE the people who are really in need… I’d argue as much or more than any other industry.
The Live Events Industry is the biggest “unknown” industry in the US, annually representing an estimated $1.2 TRILLION in direct and indirect spending. This industry includes ALL events where people gather that are professionally organized… that includes not only Arts/Theatre, but also Conferences, Trade Shows, Business Meetings, Weddings, Funerals, Graduations, Birthday & Anniversary Celebrations, Art & Music Festivals, Concerts, Music Tours, Parades, Fundraisers, Awards Galas, Inaugurations, Sporting Events (yes, the Super Bowl)… basically the entire fabric of our culture and society. Every single person in the US takes part in a professionally organized event at some point in their lives. We are the people in black behind the curtain. When we do our jobs right, you don’t know we are there. That is completely by design. It’s supposed to look effortless. And it’s hurting us now, since no one seems to know we exist and how large the industry is.
According to the Live Events Coalition, 12 million people work in the Live Events Industry in the US, with hundreds of types of jobs represented. From event producers coordinating the entire event, to the truck drivers hauling the gear. 10 million of these people are 100% unemployed due to no fault of their own… and an additional 2 million are underemployed. To put that in context, the current estimate of US unemployment is at 22 million, as of November 2020. 45% of the unemployed are people FROM the Live Events Industry. These ARE the people standing in food lines and not able to pay their rent.
This is about a HUGE industry of people that are not being cared for by our government when they were forced to stop working due to government mandates to stop the spread of a deadly disease. So yes, if you care about Restaurant and Hospitality workers, you should also care about Live Events Industry workers. We are all interconnected.
To give you a comparison, in 2018, the Automotive Industry was a $545.4 billion industry. The Live Events Industry is over two times larger. The automotive industry got a government bailout several years ago for mismanagement because they were “too big to fail.” We have not mismanaged our businesses, but yet, we are not being seen as having a need. We were the first to close. And we will be the last to reopen.
We are NOT asking to be made whole by Congress. We are asking for a BRIDGE to help us get to the other side of this crisis. And to be able to get our basic needs met… like paying for food, medical bills and a roof over our heads. And so that the talent, who has spent an average of 20 years fine-tuning their craft, are still here to serve in that capacity after this crisis is all over. Because I know you all want to get back to gathering. But if all the talent has moved on to other work or completely given up… who’s coordinating those gatherings? Trust me. You don’t want the newbie in charge of your next event.
The Live Events Industry is part of the entire US ecosystem. From the food grown by the farmers that is served by caterers, to the power used by utility companies to light events up and create the sound… to the flowers grown for weddings, and the gas used by truckers to get gear from point A to point B. If you think this “doesn’t matter”, you are sorely mistaken and entirely missing the point.
Think of a big game of Jenga, where the pieces are all interconnected to create the tower. The pieces are slowly being pulled out. You take out too many of the pieces… the entire thing collapses. That is exactly what is at risk. The people in our industry are those Jenga pieces in our society. Stop thinking of this as just the Guthrie or just the Kennedy Center or just First Avenue. Think of the entire ecosystem impacted. It’s massive.
You all NEED to care and sound the alarms. Our entire way of life and the fabric of our culture is at stake. And 10 million people have zero income without some help. Zero. Restaurants can be partially open for takeout and outside dining. The Live Events Industry is dead in the water. And we need help NOW. We needed help 9 months ago.
$15 billion doesn’t even come close to the help we, as an industry, need. If you still think our industry is “good”, consider this: $15 billion divided by 12 million people is $1250 per person. If everyone in the Live Events Industry got a piece of the “Save Our Stages Act pie” (which as individuals, we don’t), that’s how much it would amount to. How long would you last on that?
The Live Events Industry is also “too big to fail”, and it’s time for Congress and the general public to understand that and take appropriate action.
Wendy Porter is the Owner/Chief Events Architect at Wendy Porter Events, LLC, and a national award-winning event strategist. She is also the Founder/President for the Live Events Coalition Minnesota.
The national Live Events Coalition was established in March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on the live events industry. LEC exists to provide advocacy, resources and a network that connects and supports all of the businesses, contractors and our workforce – the lifeblood of every event. To learn more: http://www.liveeventscoalition.org