Investigating the impact: Lack of revenue, uncertain return date causes concern for arts and entertainment venues
By the numbers
As of May 1
Number of COVID-19 cases in Nevada County: 41
Number in western county: 12
Number in eastern county: 29
Number of active cases: 2
Number of recoveries: 38
Number of deaths: 1
Learn more at http://www.theunion.com/coronavirus
On any given spring weekend in Nevada County one could spend their leisure time enjoying a music festival, taking in a play, viewing an art gallery, catching a stand-up routine, watching a dance performance or participating in a painting class.
Those types of arts and entertainment options are regular occurrences, along with many more hosted by the myriad venues and event centers in the area. Nevada County boasts a vibrant and robust arts and entertainment industry woven deep into the fabric of its foothill and Sierra communities.
In 2018, the Nevada County Arts Council conducted a study on the impact of the industry and found it generates $46.9 million annually in total economic activity.
According to the study, that spending — $25.7 million by organizations and $21.2 million in event-related spending by their audiences — supports 869 full-time equivalent jobs, generates $20.9 million in household income to local residents, and delivers $5.1 million in local and state government revenue.
But all that revenue came to a halt with the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shelter-in-place mandate meant to slow the spread of the virus.
“Having the community stream through your doors every day and all of a sudden that stops, it’s a culture shock,” said Foothills Event Center assistant manager Amanda Rodgers.
At the Miners Foundry Cultural Center in Nevada City, more than 100 events have already been postponed or canceled.
“Obviously it’s pretty serious because we have no income coming in,” said Miners Foundry Executive Director Gretchen Bond.
The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley, which had just undergone a major renovation, was open for just a day before having to close its doors once again.
For the Nevada County Fairgrounds, more than 55 events have been canceled or postponed already, including the STEAM Expo, The Union’s Home & Garden Show, Grass Valley’s Sportsman Fishing Derby, the Strawberry Music Festival, the Celtic Fest and the California WorldFest.
“These closures have already amounted to more than $350,000 in lost revenue to the Nevada County Fairgrounds,” according to an email from Chief Executive Officer Patrick Eidman and Deputy Manager Wendy Oaks. “Obviously, this amount will continue to increase the longer the restrictions are in place. Beyond the negative impact to the fairgrounds, there is a direct financial loss to the community.
“Based on the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Economic Impact Study in 2015, events at the Nevada County Fairgrounds created a total annual spending impact of approximately $28 million on the local economy.”
Many of the entertainment centers have applied, and in some cases already been approved, for aid through the federal government’s stimulus package.
“(The Miners Foundry) applied for every single possible thing we could apply for and we did so immediately,” said Bond.
The Foothills Event Center did the same.
“We have applied for all the available financing out there and we’re optimistic it will help us get through the crunch,” said Rodgers.
The fairgrounds has to take a different path.
“As an entity of the state government, we are not eligible for any of the relief programs that have been released,” Eidman and Oaks said. “We are in a financial crisis. To mitigate, we are working closely with the California Network of Fairs on advocacy efforts to seek emergency funding and we’ll be calling on the community for their help, support and voice to be part of those advocacy efforts.”
Many venues have been the beneficiary of generous community members making donations both small and large.
For popular wedding venue North Star House, they have seen a lot of postponements, but not a lot of cancellations.
“We haven’t been through anything vaguely like this before, neither have our renters,” said North Star House office administrator Allyssa Skowyra. “Obviously, weddings take a lot to plan and there are a lot of vendors involved. What we are doing is remaining as flexible as possible with the renters, giving them the opportunity to reschedule to any open date we have.”
While not losing those funds is a positive, there will be an impact on the bottom line this year.
“We were just at a happy place with our budget with the amount of weddings we had scheduled for 2020,” said Skowyra. “So, seeing them shifting to 2021 and moving all that money on to the 2021 budget is a bummer. But we’re not seeing a total flat line which is nice.
“But again, who knows what will happen in the fall,” she added.
For other establishments like the Nevada Theatre, there is confidence about emerging from the pandemic in decent shape financially.
“We’ve always run a very financially sound business and this benefits us at this time, because we’re able to pay our employees to work from home,” said Nevada Theatre Commission Board President Jane Primrose, noting the facility’s low overhead. “For the long run, we’re just going to hang tight. We’re not in danger of going under or anything.”
Primrose said the Nevada Theatre has applied for federal aid as well.
With little to no revenue coming in, many facilities have had to find ways to lower overhead, and that has included scaling back on their event staff employees.
“We’ve closed buildings; turned off most power and water, including even water heaters and refrigerators; reduced our trash service, and are strictly limiting our spending,” said Eidman and Oaks. “We’re down to the core team of permanent staff, some of which are teleworking. Sadly, we’ve been unable to bring back any of our seasonal team, which we depend on to help keep our grounds and buildings beautiful.”
That is the case for many venues in the area, with few staff members currently working, but looking forward to when they can bring entire teams back to work.
Making things more difficult is not knowing when that will be.
“We were the first (businesses) to have to close down, so to speak, and we figure we will be the last to open,” said Bond. “Timeline-wise, we just don’t know. We have to wait to see what the local health department and our governor says.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a four-phase plan for reopening businesses. California is currently in the first phase. Venues for large gatherings are part of the fourth phase. Newsom said the second phase is “weeks, not months, away.”
“We’re listening very intently for the directives to figure out what our summer might look like,” said Center for the Arts Executive Director Amber Jo Manuel. “If we’re not able to do any activities at all, we’re hoping to be able to start in the fall. We have three different options that we’re looking at, and it all depends on the directives we hear.”
That’s how most facilities are handling the situation. Waiting for instruction and developing multiple plans for when things are allowed to open back up, whether that is by the summer, the fall or even 2021.
“There is a lot of uncertainty right now,” said Rodgers. “The dreaded second wave, that’s what we’re all worried about now. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
‘TOGETHER IN SPIRIT’
Despite the loss of jobs and financial turmoil the pandemic has caused, many venue representatives have found silver linings.
“One thing that has been notable to me is how this community has pulled together,” said Rodgers. “All the vendors that I work with and the chambers of commerce have been amazing, both Nevada City and Grass Valley. People helping people, and finding creative ways to help friends and businesses. It’s been a beautiful thing to see. … I just see such creativity from people helping each other, helping themselves and helping local businesses.”
Rodgers added, “Now is the time to get all your ducks in a row and be ready to flip the switch the minute it’s ready. In the meantime, see what you can do to help other people.”
Bond said the pandemic has reinforced her belief that, “We are all in this together.”
“What we’re learning through all this is we really crave being together,” she said, “We really desire gathering, and the Foundry has been a gathering place for the community since the ’70s. A community cultural center is really, really essential for people. We’re excited to get with the community when this is over, but in the meanwhile, we’re together in spirit.”
Look forward to seeing you
Anxious to open their doors once again and welcome back the public, Nevada County’s venue directors are making arrangements to do so in a safe manner.
“We’re preparing for whatever we can, as far as making sure we have hand-sanitizing stations,” said Bond. “Safety has always been a priority at the (Miners) Foundry, for our guests and patrons even before the COVID-19 outbreak. So, we’re brainstorming ways for every one to come back safely. Once we hear (when), we will finalize those plans.”
At The Center for the Arts, they are also exploring ways to offer their services while keeping physical distancing in mind, perhaps with smaller audiences or possibly asking artists to perform twice a night to keep crowds smaller.
Primrose said she expects some hesitancy from the public once venues are allowed to reopen.
“Once we get going again, I think there’s going to be a lag, because people are not going to feel comfortable going to confined public spaces,” she said. “But, eventually the day will come where we can sit together, watch a show and revel in that experience.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4232.
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