COVID-19 has hit performance venues especially hard


Reggie Greenlaw and John Richardson, two Iowan musicians, will perform at Stephens Auditorium on Tuesday. 

Nyamal Gatluak

Entertainment venues are taking alarming financial hits as COVID-19 mitigation efforts affect their ability to sustain business.

According to the National Independent Venue Association, the partial reopening of venues in most cases is not able to withstand the financial loss.

As venues are dealing with these huge economic losses, they are searching for ways to survive in the future.

“We have lost 80 percent of our income since being shut down on March 16,” said Robert Warren, executive director of Hoyt Sherman Place.

The historic entertainment venue has suffered from significant financial troubles and is planning on staying closed for the rest of the year. 

Hoyt Sherman Place has been following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and has contacted state and local leaders to manage a safe reopening in 2021.

“Until there is a vaccine and better treatment options, it will be difficult for the entertainment industry to rebound completely,” Warren said. “So, in the meantime, we are also advocating for additional support from the federal government with the Save our Stages Act and the RESTART Act currently before Congress.”

Despite bringing in little to no revenue because of safety mitigation efforts, venues still must pay bills and employees as well as cover other necessary expenses.

These costs have led to nationwide venue closures and have affected venue workers, artists and promoters, among many others. 

“Our staff has been profoundly affected with 95 percent of our part-time staff not working, … full-time jobs have been cut and the remaining staff have taken pay cuts and are doing rolling furloughs in order to minimize expenses as much as possible,” said Tammy Koolbeck, executive director of Stephens Auditorium.

Stephens Auditorium closed its doors March 15 and reopened in July. They hosted dance competitions and recitals while enforcing additional COVID-19 safety regulations and capacity limits. 

“We estimated a $1.5 million revenue loss from lost events at Stephens, Scheman and Fisher between March 16 and June 30, 2020,” Koolbeck said. “This doesn’t mean that we lost $1.5 million but that the events that were scheduled would have generated these revenues. With Payroll Protection Program, support from the CARES Act and watching expenses very closely, we ended the year with a small loss of around $7,000 for the Iowa State Center.”

Despite the challenging economic hit to this industry, entertainment venues remain optimistic for safe reopenings within the next months. 

“Our 2021 calendar is jam-packed with artists that also can’t wait to return to the stage,” Warren said. “We are advocating for a national reopening of venues such as ours so that the talent and their crews can move across the country once again with safety and the same set of rules.”

Stephens Auditorium is also preparing for the eventual full-reopening of its doors.

“When the time comes to reopen at full capacity, we will be ready to welcome back our performers and patrons safely,” Koolbeck said. ”We are continually keeping our options open for live streaming events until we can safely welcome patrons back into the building. If there could be a silver lining to this pandemic, it may be that Stephens has the ability to welcome the smaller arts organizations into the venue that wouldn’t have been able to play the Stephens stage.”