Save Our Stages: Arts organizations, including Schenectady’s Proctors, seek COVID relief

Proctors' Philip Morris speaks outside Palace Theatre Tuesday
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Proctors' Philip Morris speaks outside Palace Theatre Tuesday

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

By Indiana Nash/Gazette Reporter

ALBANY- Local leaders from performing arts venues like Proctors, the Palace Theatre and others gathered with Senator Chuck Schumer on Tuesday to call for federal funding amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Schumer, who held a press conference outside of the Palace, pushed for support for the Save Our Stages act, which would provide federal funding of up to $12 million for eligible independent music venues, producers and others who have been financially impacted by the pandemic.

His visit comes a week after music venues across the Capital Region and the country, were lit their buildings in red to highlight the harsh economic impact the pandemic has had on the industry.

“These businesses were the first to close down and they’ll be the last to open up and have no revenues,” Schumer said. “90% of independent venues report that they will have to close permanently without federal funding, according to the survey of National Independent Venue Association members. The economic toll that COVID-19 has had on businesses like Palace will be insurmountable . . . unless they get a lifeline of federal dollars.”

Standing in front of the downtown Albany theater, Billy Piskutz, the executive director of the Palace, touched on how much the venue has lost in the last few months.

“This iconic venue hosted its last performance on March 8, ‘Sesame Street Live,’ before COVID-19 changed us from a group of social gatherers to social distancers, a term foreign in our industry and we haven’t been able to welcome guests to this theater since then,” Piskutz said.

“Just after that performance, we experienced the whirlwind of postponements and cancellations that stopped our business in its tracks, eliminating more than 3 million dollars in revenue. We were forced to furlough more than 80 part-time employees and layoff close to 50% of our already small full-time staff; by far the most difficult task that I’ve ever had to do throughout my career.”

Many of the other theaters and concert venues in the Capital Region have also had to furlough and lay off staff members, including Proctors, which furloughed 80% of its staff in March.

Philip Morris, the CEO of Proctors, called attention to the economic impact that the arts have both nationally and locally, stating that the arts (including music, movies and theater) are the country’s fourth-largest export.

“Just in the Capital Region, as of a year ago, there were 30,591 jobs in this industry, making it the fifth-biggest sector, right behind education,” Morris said.

According to Piskutz, the local performing arts industry also has an impact on tourism.

“Our theater alone is responsible for over 10 million dollars in ancillary spending and over 3,700 hotel stays as well, welcoming more than 185,000 people into our capital city,” Piskutz said.

The Save Our Stages Act, which Schumer cosponsored, would provide grants through the Small Business Administration of up to $12 million for live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives. The grants could be used to cover six months of operating expenses and offset the harsh economic impact that the pandemic has had on these institutions.

When asked what the passing of Save Our Stages could mean for these venues, Morris said: “. . . it depends on the particulars when the bill gets passed if it can help us pay our utilities to keep our buildings healthy and keep the people we have because this is going to go on for some time, that alone would be helpful.”

“Each facility here could get up to 12 million dollars in grants and they could use it for payroll; they could use it for utilities. It’s very flexible, so they would have the dollars in my opinion to rehire all the people they laid off,” Schumer said.

Schumer added that Save Our Stages has bipartisan support, along with the support of popular artists like Lady Gaga, Robert Plant, Billie Eilish and others. He hopes it will pass as part of the next COVID relief bill in the next few weeks.

“In every community in New York, these independent venues are essential to the life, energy, culture and attractiveness of our communities. They nurture talent attract people to live in these areas and consume the music and performance which in turn generates huge amounts of economic and cultural energy,” Schumer said.

“We cannot let COVID shut down all of these places. But if we do nothing, that’s what’ll happen. We must ensure they survive and thrive after we defeat this horrible virus.”

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