What did the overall situation look like in your city when the pandemic hit?
In late February, Washington saw the first person diagnosed with COVID-19 in the U.S. become the first known death from the virus, which set in motion a series of actions in the interest of public health. On March 16, 2020, our live music venues were closed by government directive, and they have not been allowed to reopen since. Once the REVS team convened, we identified three priorities to focus the work on:
What is the current situation in your city/county? What has changed?
Currently, we have an ongoing statewide full live entertainment ban. All of our live music venues remain closed and have been unable to do business since March 16th. Venue owners are organized and working together to have a collective voice when they confer with government leaders, philanthropists, musicians and patrons.
Washington State has a four phase Safe Start plan. Seattle/King County had been in Phase 2
which had allowed restaurants and taverns to operate at a 50% capacity, movie theaters at 25% capacity, and limited gatherings in outdoor recreations for several months. However, in response to record-breaking COVID transmission rates and impacted medical capacity, on November 15th, Governor Inslee further restricted restaurants and taverns (no indoor dining), closed museums and movie theaters, and imposed other restrictions statewide, including social gatherings. Multiple live music venues have set up streaming from their venues, and to date, this is not proving to be a very lucrative model.
What did you get out of being a pilot city in the REVS initiative?
Information sharing was one of the primary benefits of being a REVS pilot city. Regular participants in weekly meetings include independent live music venue owners, musicians, public health officials and communications strategists. Weekly REVS team meetings created a platform for diverse stakeholders in live music to gather, share information, identify concerns, and explore ideas as we worked through the shutdown and fluctuating guidance.
Additionally, the most meaningful impact of REVS Seattle/King County may be in bringing focus to the shared goals (and frustrations) of the community and in creating connections among team members. Venue owners and other stakeholders in Seattle’s live music ecosystem may see each other less as competitors and more as allies in the pursuit of reopening every venue safely.
Were you able to procure funding for the local venues? If so, where did the support come from?
Under the leadership of King County Executive Dow Constantine, the King County Council enacted a pandemic relief fiscal package that includes $750,000 specifically for live music venues. This COVID relief funding, the first public funding for COVID-impacted live music venues in the country, prompted a private sector effort to leverage these public dollars with philanthropic gifts. The Keep Music Live campaign is currently underway to raise critically needed funds for live music venues.
While there is precedent of an organized nightlife/live music grassroots organization in Seattle, one did not exist at the time that COVID-19 shut down the economy. Recognizing the immense threat to their industry, venue owners, with some help from local government, quickly rallied together to advocate for themselves collectively, understanding they were more likely to survive together than as individuals. The creation of the Washington Nightlight and Music Association (WANMA) quickly spread beyond just Seattle/King County and now boasts some 45 venues from around the state.
Cover Photo Credit: Photo by Ben Dutton