Orpheum Theater joins 800 venues nationwide asking Congressional leaders for support

Orpheum Theater joins 800 venues nationwide asking Congressional leaders for support

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Following projections by leaders in California and New York that concerts and live events might not return until 2021 or later, many concert venues worry that the industry will not be able to make a full recovery with the current financial assistance measures in place.

Flagstaff’s historic Orpheum Theater announced on Friday, April 24, its involvement—along with 20 other venues across the state and more than 800 throughout the country—in the newly formed National Independent Venue Association.

In an open letter issued to Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on April 22, NIVA Board President Dayna Frank outlined a bleak future for an industry that plays a crucial role in its community’s economy.

“While we are small businesses, the estimated direct annual economic impact we bring to our local communities is nearly $10 billion... Our passionate and fiercely independent operators are not ones to ask for handouts,” Frank wrote. “But because of our unprecedented, tenuous position, for the first time in history, there is legitimate fear for our collective existence.”

According to the 2017 Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account released by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis, the arts and culture industry contributed $877.8 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product. Nonprofit arts organizations in Flagstaff were found to bring in about $90 million to the city’s economy the same year, generating roughly $4.6 million in local tax revenue, according to a study conducted by Americans for the Arts.

“Obviously these are unprecedented times for all of us, not just for those of us in the entertainment community,” Charles Smith, owner of the Orpheum, said in an interview with Flagstaff Live at the beginning of April. “It’s impacting the artists, it’s impacting tourism, it’s impacting our sponsors, it’s impacting everyone who loves the arts.”

In a call to action, NIVA is asking Congress to modify the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program to allow qualifying businesses to apply for multiple loans and ensure interest does not accrue until one year after the industry is able to return to normal. The association is asking for rent and mortgage forbearance, existing debt deferral and more actions that can help ease the burden of remaining shuttered for the foreseeable future.  

“As a major economical anchor for downtown Flagstaff and as we struggle to cover our base utilities and rent, as are so many venues across our country, we need every bit of help we can get,” Orpheum General Manager Susan Walter told the Arizona Daily Sun.

The Orpheum Theater has been a mainstay in Flagstaff since it opened its doors in August 1917. It entertained people throughout the decades, serving as a hotspot for the public to enjoy films, plays, dances and music. By 1999, however, its owners left town, and the neon-signed venue remained dark for more than three years before Chris Scully, Art Babbott and Turney Postlewait leased the building to begin the extensive renovation project. By December 2002, the Orpheum reopened, going on to host more than 150 events each year and providing Flagstaff residents and visitors a place to gather while supporting a wide variety of local and touring acts.

“The cultural impact of our venues on our local communities is priceless,” Frank wrote of venues across the nation. “We are the steadfast incubators and launch pads for the most popular talent in the world… The world could be without the next Lady Gaga, Kenny Chesney, Chance the Rapper or Bruce Springsteen if we cease to exist. Independent venues and promoters are crucial components of the music industry’s ecosystem, without whom there will be dire ramifications for artists as fan spending plummets.”

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done,” former owner Chris Scully said ahead of the theater’s centennial celebration in 2017. “It’s my life’s work. I want it to continue. That’s important to me that it continues on.”


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