Low Wear And Tear Is Not Necessarily A Good Thing

We ran into an unanticipated complication of the Covid epidemic last week.

You may have heard that cars are engineered to operate more efficiently at highway speeds because engines get hot enough for a long enough period to burn off impurities, etc. (Though certainly hybrids are well on the way to turning that situation around.)

Well apparently there is something similar at work with septic systems.

A combination of smaller audiences; new, low water use toilets; and the flushing of supposedly “disposable” wipes over the last year meant there was not enough water flow through the pipes to keep things clear. When one thing snagged and came to rest, there was insufficient pressure to ensure the next things through passed by.

And lest you think this is a problem experienced by older, historic buildings, the issue was exacerbated by plumbing installed during a renovation completed three years ago. As the guys who came to address the issue said, it was up to code but the people who installed it never had to service their own work.

My suspicion is that as many venues gear up to to return to capacity they will find that the low demands placed on their infrastructure during the last year hasn’t necessarily forestalled degradation and, in fact, may have resulted in new problems.

We were fortunate in that we were sensitive to some early warning signs and took some action to investigate, otherwise things may have backed up at the next large capacity event. Folks would do well to be a little paranoid about unfamiliar, but seemingly minor sights, smells and sounds as they prepare for the return of audiences. It may pay to take extra time to examine equipment and technology, especially if you assume there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it after so much inactivity.

Looks Like Streaming Is Here To Stay A Bit Longer

I saw on FastCompany that Live Nation is wiring some of their venues for livestreaming and wondered what, if any impact it may have on the way performing arts venues operate in the future.

This is potentially a brilliant business move, because not only will livestreaming repeatedly capture superfans who would happily spend an evening and $120-$600 on tickets, but it will increase access for fans whose towns and budgets do not align with tours. Perhaps more critically, it will reach the many (many) semi-fans who would not tromp through crowds to see Pink, but would totally pay $15-40 to project her onto their living room wall.

Here are some of the things this got me thinking-

Pretty much at every community in which I have worked, people will complain there is too much they want to participate going on at the same time and they wish organizations would coordinate their calendars. (Of course there is often an overlap with the people who say there is nothing to do in the community.) Am I going to be in a position where I not only have to worry about what is going on in immediate area, but also a big event 300 miles away that people who live in a 10 mile radius of my venue are staying home to see?

There is plenty of precedent for this in relation to college sports. I have frequently been advised not to program during home football games of universities 200 miles away, during NCAA finals and similar events. Now granted, I don’t have empirical evidence this is a factor since it is difficult to survey people who chose not to come, but these events are frequently cited as a reason for low attendance.

Another concern is that performers may see less of a need to tour so extensively if they feel live streaming is extending their reach to people who live in the spaces between major markets, but won’t travel that far to see the show. Touring isn’t cheap or easy so it isn’t inconceivable that performers will skip places that may have gone in the past, especially if any sort of formal or informal social distancing conventions persist in the coming years. That decision will rob many communities of the economic impact of those tours.

The negative impact of casinos showrooms on performing arts venues has been widely acknowledged due to their ability to pay performers extremely well and require non-compete clauses over a broad geographic radius. I am not sure that Live Nation venues would require similarly large radii given the appeal of livestream broadcasts are not geographically bound, but performers feeling satisfied they are reaching who they need to reach via livestream may inadvertently have the same effect.

Now granted, this last hypothesis while possible, may not manifest. If there is enough perceived demand in smaller markets, touring groups are likely to make more money with a live performance than they would from streaming it 200 miles away. In fact, the streaming may increase the interest in seeing the liveshow.

As with so many things, its the unanticipated impacts of trends for which one needs to remain alert. Even if you don’t see your operation as being on the same scale as those of Live Nation’s, the ripples may impact you just the same. I can see plenty of positive potential as well as other performers move to fill in the gaps and find themselves thriving.

Latest Shuttered Venue Grant FAQ Provides Increased Detail

While I am sure a lot of performing arts venues have been closely paying attention to news about Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program designed to help arts organizations impacted by Covid shutdowns, you probably wouldn’t have expected a major update to a government department’s FAQ document to be rolled out on a Sunday.

There was a major update to the SVOG FAQ on Sunday.

It isn’t difficult to identify what information is new because anything that didn’t appear in the February 12 update has a * next to it.

This version answers a lot of questions I have heard asked in webinars, including specific information about the eligibility of performing arts venues run by university, state and local governments. Similarly, there is detailed information which apply to museums.

The February 28 version also provides new definitions for a lot of terms like museum, promoter, regular programming, theatrical producer, performing arts organization operator, cover charge, mixing equipment, lighting rig, sound engineer, etc.

The question of what constituted fixed seating came up a lot in webinars I attended because it is a significant requirement to receive funding in some instances. In this version they added the following information:

*Would heavy bleachers pushed back against the wall when not in use but never removed from a theater qualify as fixed seating?

Yes. Any cumbersome seating not easily or regularly removed from a theater will be considered fixed.

While there is a requirement that people be paid fairly in the legislation, earlier versions of the FAQ explained that volunteer labor did not exclude a venue from apply if the staff managing the venue were paid. This means that many community theatre organizations may also be eligible for SVOG funding.

The FAQ that illustrates this best is probably the following, which also appeared in earlier versions:

If a venue’s box office is staffed by volunteers is it eligible to apply? Yes. Among the criteria included in the live venue operator or promoter definition is a requirement that a qualifying venue must engage at least one individual to perform at least two of the following roles: sound engineer, booker, promoter, stage manager security personnel, and box office manager. The Economic Aid Act does not reference any hired box office staff other than a box office manager and does not absolutely require even that position. As such, the use of volunteers to staff a venue’s box office would not preclude it from being eligible to apply for an SVOG.

There is also some oddly specific questions that makes me think the legislation was intentionally written to provide eligibility to a corporate entity.

Does a live venue operator who qualifies as an “eligible person or entity” remain eligible for an SVOG if that live venue operator has a minority investor (less than 51% ownership) that has more than 500 employees, locations in 11 or more states, and locations in 2 or more countries? Is that the only ownership/control-related grounds for disqualifying someone?

Yes. The Economic Aid Act speaks only of majority ownership and control in the context of the disqualifying conditions related to being listed on a stock exchange or to the geographic scope of operations and number of employees. There are no other control requirements in the statute.

If you hadn’t researched SVOG funding or didn’t think you qualified, the latest version of the FAQ should provide a greater degree of clarity than any previous version. (Though the additional detail may dash the hopes generated by the previous vagueness.)

More Reminders About Importance of Libraries

I was reading a story about the earthquake that hit Christchurch, NZ ten years ago today which damaged large parts of the city. According to the article there was a significant effort by the local government which collected more than 100,000 ideas from over 10,000 people about how Christchurch should be rebuilt, but those plans and ideas were discarded by the national government of the time. The basic theme of the article is that much of the development which has occurred in the last 10 years hasn’t revitalized Christchurch.

The one place where local input was included in the plan generated by the national government was Tūranga, a library and community space which looks pretty dang awesome. Not only are there cafes and play areas, but there is a lot of focus on indigenous Maori culture and art as well as a digital wall depicting Christchurch’s features, history and stories. It is easy to see why the facility is well-regarded by residents.

Before I took a deeper look at the library in Christchurch, I was immediately reminded of the State Library of Queensland in Australia which Nina Simon had spoken about in a TED talk about 4 years ago. I summarized her story in a blog post at the time.

…State Library of Queensland which built a gorgeous new white building and then invited aboriginal elders in to help them design an indigenous knowledge center. The elders noted that for them, knowledge wasn’t shared through books, but rather through music, dance and storytelling in a setting that wasn’t so sterile looking, most importantly around a fire. The librarians, true to their intent renovated a space for music, dance and storytelling and infused it with color. And they built a firepit (away from the flammable archives, of course).

Part of the reason I checked out the floor plan of the library in Christchurch is because I wanted to see if they had included anything like a fire pit at their library. It doesn’t appear that there is, but there are plenty of other facilities and equipment for sharing ideas and stories.

By the way, if you want to see pictures of the fire pit area in Queensland, they are on the library’s webpage. Scroll down to “Story Circle” heading. It almost doesn’t look like it is outside, but I found some YouTube videos of events and while it is nicely enclosed there is definitely a lot fresh air flow through the space.

The lesson here may be not to give libraries short shrift in the economizing that may come now or as we emerge from Covid restrictions because they are important community spaces.

One specifically arts related thing I wanted to note was the significant role the article said it played in helping people transition post-earthquake in Christchurch:

If you don’t live in New Zealand and you read about Christchurch in those years, most likely it was about the creative, guerrilla projects that popped up in the immediate aftermath of the quakes. Temporary site activations—Gap Fillers—brought life back to the empty gravel lots with music, performance, art, and community participation. These were almost spontaneous events, a community responding to challenging times however it could. They represented the best of the city, and inspired residents and visitors to believe that the new Christchurch that grew from the rubble of the old could be eclectic, engaging, and exciting.


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