Local Arts & Culture Gets Relief Funding Through 'Save Our Stages' Bill

An R&B bands plays from a Mahall stage.
Independent venues like Lakewood's Mahall's will be able to apply for 'Save Our Stages' relief funds [Mahall's]

The COVID relief bill passed by Congress this week contains $15 billion to be targeted for arts and culture venues, and a Clevelander helped make it happen.

The pandemic forced the closings of hundreds of independent concert venues across the country, putting many club employees and musicians out of work. Those shutdowns prompted the formation of a grassroots advocacy group called the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) that has lobbied Congress for funds ever since.

The Happy Dog Saloon's Sean Watterson was a charter member of NIVA, and he said the relief package, called "Save Our Stages," will help other local cultural stakeholders, like theaters, zoos and museums, as well.

“And it's understandable that that may not have been clear from the start,” Watterson said. “It's the independent venues through NIVA who, honestly, did the work to get the bill introduced and did the work to get their fans reaching out in support. But, you know, we've been inclusive from the start. It was never just about for-profit music venues.”

Watterson said the initial proposal for the “Save Our Stages” bill was $10 billion. Over the last few weeks, he was surprised to see that number get bumped up to $15 billion. But, what’s really making his head spin is the fact that this whole process happened so quickly.

“Because, you know, we didn't exist March 15th, NIVA didn't exist,” he said. “We came together because if we didn't, we'd all be gone.”

Watterson said he’s hoping the details on application for and distribution of the funding will be worked out in the next two months.

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