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Why Saving Venues Matters

20 May 2020
No Venues? No chance. The fight to save the places where memories are made for so many artists and their fans told through those at the coalface.

“The only way that Marlon (Williams) got to play at the Town Hall was because he started off supporting other people at the Wine Cellar. Over 10 years he's developed into an international artist that can fill up the Town Hall, have his own concert and have an album of it that's amazing, but not everyone understands that process.” 

In an alternate universe, Auckland musician Reb Fountain is getting ready to set out on a tour of New Zealand in support of her new album. In light of the crisis, she ended up pushing the tour dates to the end of the year. And it was while rescheduling with Wine Cellar owner, Rohan Evans, that she realised what a precarious position most venues were in. 

With the help of promoter and musician Rueben Bonner, she set up a crowdfunder for Wine Cellar and sister venue Whammy Bar. The campaign raised $50k in eight hours and is sitting over $100k. The pair realised that venues around the country were in similar dire straits, and with the help of some mates set up the Save Our Venues campaign. So far the campaign has raised over $385k for venues around the country. 

I talked to Fountain, co-owner of San Francisco Bathhouse Tim Ward and Darkroom co-owner Feather Shaw about what level 2 means for them and how the public has responded to the campaign. 

Don't Stand So Close to Me

Like a breath of fresh air, businesses around Aotearoa are reopening, but the restrictions are presenting venue owners with a unique set of problems. For Darkroom’s Shaw, they will trial a limited reopening in Christchurch starting tonight (21 May).

The first weekend features a short program of events with a cabaret band on Thursday, an acoustic gig on Friday and another band on Saturday. They have limited tickets to 35 per event and are only selling presales. 

She admits Darkroom is in a slightly better position than many venues with their landlord offering reduced rents. 

The Wait Goes On

San Fran in happier times. Photo: Sean Aickin.

For Ward, level 2 means his venue will have to remain closed. San Francisco Bathhouse is a live music venue that normally houses bigger acts, meaning table service isn’t an option.  

“The best I think that we can do is open at level 1, and be clear to people who are concerned about or still practising social distancing that you shouldn't come here because we cannot guarantee it’s safe, it’s just not possible.”

Ward says support from central government has been lacking, but he feels the campaign has helped people at the council understand what music venues are going through.

“Council is starting to see what we're doing in terms of the campaign and going ‘Wow, that's really important that you exist. We kind of get you now based on how you explain yourself publicly and why you're putting your hands up for help’. 

“But what we really need is a long term voice for our industry. 6% of Wellington's workforce is in the creative arts, which is significant.”

Tim Ward (left) with San Fran manager Ziggy Ziya. 

Stand Up

Fountain says one of the goals of Save Our Venues is to push for a national funding strategy for live music venues around the country.

“Galleries and theatres get supported funding. Original live music has never really had that same support because people think that venues are businesses. 

“But actually they're run a loss, by a handful of people who are only doing it for the love of it because they know that not only is it a really valuable community asset to have live music to entertain people but also to have places and spaces to go out and have fun.” 

While the campaign was set up to keep the country's venues from going under, an unexpected consequence has been the support and love shown by the public.

Everyone agrees it has brought a lot of hope in some pretty dark times. Ward describes the public's responses as overwhelming and humbling.

“We’re getting so many phone calls from the arts sector, and outside of the arts sector. Immediately they’re like ‘are you okay, how're things going?’ and you scratch the surface on what they’re dealing with and find out they’re fucking struggling as well. If not financially, then emotionally or mentally whatever. So, yeah, it's been a really emotional process.” 

Shaw has got a buzz out of reading through the Boosted donation list. “Seeing like almost 300 names we recognise, whether it's an aunty or a neighbour or someone who comes to our open mic events, to promoters who book shows here, and even a couple of people who work at the Music Commission themselves. It's pretty cool, the response has been awesome.”

We've only Just Begun

Reb Fountain performing at Wine Cellar.

While Fountain is excited about the success of the Save Our Venues campaign, she’s aware that to have lasting change, the movement needs to grow beyond the music community.  

“One thing that I've been a little concerned about is reach.  People are responding in their respective communities and I really think that's very important. At the same time, the network that we have is really limited. It's not a broad section of the community and we're gonna find it tapped for resources. 

“That's why we're thinking broader and involving aligning bodies. Because the community are 100% behind it. They get it. We need some leadership from the top down, to lead the way for all those folks who don't understand.”