Mezzanine
Mezzanine in San Francisco, which closed in 2019 | Credit: Johnny Edge

Over the past year, we’ve seen artists and arts organizations pushed to the brink by revenue loss during the pandemic shutdown. And as we continue to report on how large organizations are plotting to return to fiscal health, a local philanthropic initiative is taking up the cause of smaller and midsize arts organizations in a recently launched, partially crowdfunded campaign.

The national philanthropy organization The Giving Back Fund has created the Independent Venue Preservation Initiative, launched three weeks ago to provide money for San Francisco’s 100 or more shuttered small arts venues, from clubs to theaters, with a plan to soon expand to the entire Bay Area. The idea is that qualifying organizations can receive money directly from donors to offset expenses dating as far back as February 2020. The application process is free and simple; donations provide assistance with paying bills.

The program is designed to work with other sources of income still available, such as foundation grants and individual giving, by covering “essential” expenses, such as rent/mortgage payments and electricity bills to keep the lights on and so forth. The program is open-ended and designed to run until venues can open again at full capacity.

Two days ago, the IVPI launched a crowdfunding initiative on Patreon, Subscribe to Live. You can support the cause with a donation to the page. Although the participating venue list is still not public, people connected to the project expect demand from many venues, once word gets out. Subscription rates run from $15 to $45 a month.

“By investing in our local arts and entertainment economy for the price of a streaming subscription, we can make a substantial positive impact on our city, preserving all independent culturally significant businesses within the community,” says IVPI’s founder, Elizabeth Simon, who also runs Bourgeois Productions Presents, an indie music promoter.

Even before the pandemic, as real-estate prices and rents soared, independent venues were closing: Viracocha and Mezzanine were two indie music venues that closed in 2019 or earlier, and that means arts organizations are having a hard time finding space to perform: just ask West Edge Opera, which is operating this year through a share arrangement with California Shakespeare Theater but has previously held seasons in the abandoned West Oakland train station and a Berkeley factory. Many local dance companies are in a similar situation.

Says Simon, “The city has gone through significant changes with redevelopment in the 1970s, the tech boom and subsequent bust, and the housing crisis which forced artists and musicians to leave altogether. We are on the brink of another catastrophic event if we don’t deliver targeted aid where it is needed. Venue owners shouldn’t have to wait around for a chance at another grant because we can’t risk losing any more venues.”

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