I brought my morning cup of coffee over to First Avenue recently. It was a cathartic reunion. I can confirm the silver stars are still on the outside walls. But the glass doors are boarded up, and concerts are postponed indefinitely. Standing on the too-clean pavement outside the club—where the anticipation has built before shows for 50 years—is all we’ve got right now.
I will be thrilled to go to a concert when the time is right. First Avenue’s CEO Dayna Frank has said the downtown Minneapolis venue can’t reopen until there’s a coronavirus vaccine, and she’s not alone. Our performance spaces for music, theater, dance, and more rely on big crowds in tight quarters to stay in business. Until it’s no longer a health liability to mix freely with artists and fans—what Émile Durkheim called “collective effervescence”—we’re stuck.
Even though the money’s not coming in, performers and operators still have bills to pay. Sen. Amy Klobuchar co-authored the Save Our Stages Act, one of several bills aiming to provide financial support to independent venues, and Frank has banded together with nearly 2,000 venues across the U.S. as the National Independent Venue Association to raise awareness. It’s serious.
Plenty among us don’t take Minnesota’s live performance assets for granted. We buy tickets, we blast out social media updates from shows, and spend money on refreshments and merch. (Plus, the dollars that go to neighborhood businesses near venues.) But what we have taken for granted, perhaps, is that these institutions could be fallible. The pandemic has hit restaurants, travel, and plenty of other industries hard, and our arts scene is no different.
To figure out how to pitch in, check the websites of your favorite performing arts venues and artists, and visit saveourstages.com. And, then go plant your feet outside that place you love. I can tell you, it’s worth it.