By Wendy E. Porter
Owner, Wendy Porter Events, LLC
Vice-Chair, Government Affairs, Live Events Coalition
March 18, 2022
On December 21, 2020, Congress passed the $15 billion Shuttered Venues Operators Grant (SVOG) as part of the COVID Relief Bill. And then on March 11, 2021, Congress passed the $1.2 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), of which $360 billion was allocated to state and local governments to support COVID relief efforts, including for small business relief. I’m hearing from a lot of misguided people that my industry “must be okay” now. Well… not so fast.
While the SVOG was very much needed to keep our small independent venues, like Minneapolis’ First Avenue, alive, it didn’t go far enough. It helped the small venues stay afloat by covering their operating losses, but it didn’t help support the every-day gig worker or small business owners, who create events at those venues.
The ARPA funding theoretically pushed billions into small businesses in the Live Events Industry, but yet, most of that money never got where it was intended to go, as states had wide discretion on how to distribute the funds. According to a September 2021 survey by the Live Events Coalition, over 90% of small businesses in the Live Events Industry have been completely left out of aid from these packages.
And then people said, “Congress is not prioritizing the money correctly. There are people standing in food lines, and they give it to the arts with SVOG? Who cares about the arts! Why aren’t they giving more to restaurants, where people are REALLY in need?”
I’m here to tell you why you should care. About the Arts and all the rest of the Live Events Industry, in which I have been employed for the last 20 years of my career. These ARE the people who are really in need… I’d argue as much or more than any other industry. After all, there was no curbside pickup in Live Events. We were literally SHUT DOWN. For almost two years. And some of our segments (i.e. Corporate) and not really back yet. Corporate trade shows are just starting to be held in person again. My company has done one in-person trade show. In two years. And it happened last week.
The Live Events Industry is the biggest “unknown” industry in the US, annually representing a conservatively estimated nearly $1 TRILLION in direct spending. This industry includes ALL events where people gather that are professionally organized. That includes not only Arts/Theatre, but also Conferences, Trade Shows, Business Meetings, Weddings, Funerals, Graduations, Birthday & Anniversary Celebrations, Art & Music Festivals, Concerts, Music Tours, Parades, Fundraisers, Awards Galas, Inaugurations, Sporting Events… basically the entire fabric of our culture and society.
Every single person in the US takes part in a professionally organized event at some point in their lives. We are the people in black behind the curtain. When we do our jobs right, you don’t know we are there. That is completely by design. It’s supposed to look effortless. And over the last two years, that’s really hurt us. No one seems to know we exist and how large the industry is. It’s beyond time to come out from the shadows.
According to the Live Events Coalition, 12 million people work in the Live Events Industry in the US, with hundreds of types of jobs represented across over 1 million small businesses. From event producers coordinating the entire event, to the truck drivers hauling the gear,10 million of these people were 100% unemployed due to no fault of their own and an additional two million were underemployed.
To put that in context, in November 2020, 22 million people were unemployed in the US. 45% of the unemployed were people FROM the Live Events Industry. These were the people who were standing in food lines and not able to pay their rent. And many of these people are still not back to work or have mountains of debt to overcome. Homes, cars and other assets have been sold. 401K’s, savings accounts and college funds wiped out. People have taken their lives. The COVID-19 impact on the workforce in the Live Events Industry has been severe and staggering.
This is about a HUGE industry of people that have not been cared for by our government when they were forced to stop working due to government mandates to stop the spread of a deadly disease. So yes, if you care about Restaurant workers, you should also care about Live Events Industry workers. We are all interconnected. An event is at the epicenter. People drive to get to the event; they stay in hotels; they eat at restaurants; they shop. The ripple effect is massive. Make no mistake, events are a major economic driver across the globe, and our industry has been forgotten.
To give you a comparison, in 2018, the US Automotive Industry was a $545.4 billion industry. The Live Events Industry is nearly two times larger. The US Automotive Industry got a government bailout several years ago for mismanagement because they were “too big to fail.” We have not mismanaged our businesses, but yet, we are not being seen as having a need. We were the first to close. And we have been the last to reopen… with many events still not back on the calendar.
The Live Events Industry is part of the entire US ecosystem. From the food grown by the farmers that is served by caterers, to the power used by utility companies to light events up and create the sound… to the flowers grown for weddings, and the gas used by truckers to get gear from point A to point B. If you think this “doesn’t matter”, you are sorely mistaken and entirely missing the point.
Think of a big game of Jenga, where the pieces are all interconnected to create the tower. The pieces are slowly being pulled out. You take out too many of the pieces… the entire thing collapses. That is exactly what is at risk. The people in our industry are those Jenga pieces in our society. Stop thinking of this as just the Guthrie or just the Kennedy Center or just First Avenue. Think of the entire ecosystem impacted. It’s massive.
Are we still fighting? You bet we are! Why? Because our industry now has a 2-year hole to dig out of. We have all been in the same storm over the last two years. But some of us have been on yachts. Some of us have been paddling in canoes. And some of us have been drowning. We are the ones drowning. We are not asking to be made whole by Congress. We have never asked for that. We are asking for the same help afforded to other parts of our society during this crisis, which is still not over. We just need a lifeboat to help us weather this storm until it passes.
We have active legislation in the works, being championed by Representative Dean Phillips (D-MN). In fact, just yesterday, an article ran in Politico about a Letter to Speaker Pelosi and Chair DeLauro asking them to support an active bill to get more help for businesses in live events, gyms, restaurants not supported by the Restaurant Revitalization Act (RRA) because the funding ran out, and for other small businesses that have been left out of aid.
The Live Events Industry is also “too big to fail”, and it’s more than time for Congress to take appropriate action to support this vital industry in our US economy.
Wendy Porter, a nationally award-winning event strategist, is the Chief Events Officer of Wendy Porter Events, LLC, based in Minneapolis, MN. She is the Founder/President for the Live Events Coalition Minnesota, the Vice-Chair of Government Affairs for the National Live Events Coalition, and she sits on the National Board of Directors of LEC. Over the last two years, Wendy’s advocacy for the Live Events Industry has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, on CNBC and MPR, and in several local press outlets in Minnesota.
TheLive Events Coalition was established in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on the live events industry. LEC exists to provide advocacy, resources and a network that connects and supports all of the businesses, contractors and our workforce – the lifeblood of every event. To learn more: www.liveeventscoalition.org