Hit hard by COVID-19, Ontario music venues 'in desperate need of help'

As London settles into Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening, music venues — among the first to close after the coronavirus pandemic hit — will be the last in the province to reopen.

The financial impacts of COVID-19 have prompted the Canadian Independent Venue Coalition to launch the Support Canadian Venues campaign, calling on the federal government to support independent music venues.

Without help, the coalition estimates 96 per cent of independent music companies in Canada will have to close down in the next six months.

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“Live music is in desperate need of help. It looks like we will be the last ones to open up, and nobody has a crystal ball to see how deep we are in this,” said Mike Manuel, owner of the London Musical Hall.

The Music Hall has been closed down for the last four months.

In Stage 3, gathering limits were increased to a maximum of 50 people indoors and a maximum of 100 outdoors.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ontario would likely stay in Stage 3 until a vaccine is found, leaving many wondering when venues will be allowed to host large gatherings again.

Over the years, the priority of the Music Hall has been reinvesting their profits back into the venue, having only just finished a major renovation months before they shut down.

They have taken advantage of the wage subsidy, but Manuel said it’s still not enough, given they have zero revenue coming in.

“It’s not a pretty moment for the music industry right now,” he said.

Manuel hopes the federal government will step in to help music venues until they can host concerts again.

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“Many venues like ours are on life support right now and not sure if they are going to make it,” said Clark Bryan, artistic and executive director of Aeolian Hall – Performing Arts Centre.

Bryan tells Global News they have had to close all of their productions, causing their revenue stream to dry up. They are still continuing to try and support local artists by selling their work online.

Aeolian Hall is also restarting their free after-school music program for kids online and is looking at ways to support local musicians with the possibility of online performances.

The venue did receive $5,000 from the government, but Bryan said he is grateful for the support from Londoners who have donated to them over the last few months to keep them going.

Meanwhile, London’s largest music venue, Budweiser Gardens, has been working on rescheduling all concerts for 2021.

Brian Ohl, general manager of Budweiser Gardens, said that while things are not the best, they are getting by. He said they are taking the time to do some maintenance and have also opened up Bud’s Brew Garden in their parking lot on Friday’s to bring in some revenue.

“The business has some mechanisms in place, so think we can weather the storm here,” Ohl said.

“Other small venues that are privately-owned could have some problems.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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