Editorial: Arts venues steer pandemic course

  • Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 7/15/2020 11:54:18 AM

Individually, the COVID-19 pandemic has been uniquely difficult for everyone. Likewise, the business community is in the middle of an especially difficult economic lull.

Without a revenue stream for months, now, area art-related businesses and entertainment venues, in particular, are struggling to stay afloat.

For example, according to a recent report from the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), among 2,000 American independent venue owners, promoters and bookers that the organization surveyed, 90 percent believed they would have to close permanently within the next few months, barring some additional government funding.

“We have weathered the storm. I’m watching very carefully what’s going on. But I think we’re going to require large participation — not only by the community but also by the town — to see us through,” said Dr. Steve Goldsher, co-owner of Greenfield-based Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. “We’ve seen a stream of income, hundreds of thousands of dollars, disappear.”

But while the revenue has is gone, expenses are not. Goldsher noted building costs like “insurance, taxes … inspections that are required for a restaurant business, safety systems, sprinkler systems … elevators, we have contracts for maintenance. All of that overhead, unfortunately, doesn’t go away. It’s a heavy load to lift.”

And while Goldsher says they have been able to take advantage of some programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, Hawks & Reed doesn’t qualify for some of the other government grants intended to keep the arts alive because it’s a for-profit business. To that end, the state and federal governments could make a huge difference by opening up grant opportunities for venues like Hawks & Reed.

More than ever, the region’s art scene also needs the public’s support.

Over the last decade or so, premier entertainment spaces like Hawks & Reed, Shea Theater Arts Center in Montague, among many others, have brought globally recognized acts to Franklin County. Through the work of people like Goldsher, who grew up in the area and has invested much into its betterment, the region has emerged as a burgeoning arts district.

From the Green River Festival to the Charlemont Reggae Festival and everything in between, Franklin County without its music scene is unimaginable.

So, as the state cautiously moves toward reopening — with gyms, museums and restaurants now more accessible, for instance — we hope people will continue to keep the arts in mind. Notably, 84 percent of Green River Festival ticket-holders kept their passes for next year’s show after this year’s in-person event was canceled.

Arts supporters will soon have another chance to make a positive impact on their community.

Under the current phase, venues like Hawks & Reed can host events outdoors. Goldsher says they’re exploring holding sessions at local spaces including Energy Park in Greenfield.

If and when these events are scheduled, we hope they’ll be well-attended — and that attendees are respectful and understanding about additional safety requirements, such as spaced-out seating and mask requirements, that venues will have to meet to be in business.

“Hopefully, people will understand and appreciate what it takes to put those kind of events together and be charitable to help artists who are performing,” Goldsher said. “People have been relentless in sending us emails and comments, about how they can’t wait until Hawks & Reed is open again. Everyone had this vision that this would all end and we’d have this huge party. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to be like the end of a train ride. It’s a journey, and we’re all in this together.”

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