JACKSONVILLE, Ore. — When the first confirmed cases of coronavirus began to show up in Oregon, live events were among the first activities to be shut down by state officials. More than a year later, little has changed — and many organizations tied to this sector are expressing frustration from the apparent lack of responsiveness shown by Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority.
The Britt Music & Arts Festival released a public statement on Monday, describing concerns from the industry that have gone largely unaddressed.
Britt was part of a coalition of venues, promoters, and other groups — including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — that lobbied the Governor for a "sensible strategy" on reopening in a letter back in March. According to Britt, the coalition never received a response to the letter, but there was a webiner held on March 31 to address the topic. Governor Brown's liaison Leah Horner and state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger led the session.
"Although originally led to believe the group would be invited to provide input into the reopening process, members were instead limited to submitting questions at the end of the OHA presentation — questions which were largely left unanswered," Britt said. "Additionally, the Governor’s team did not provide guidance to allow reopening of venues and events once specific benchmarks are met."
Britt said that the coalition letter was also not addressed during the March 31 meeting. Meeting attendees were told "that there was no strategy, and that the Governor would not be pursuing any input from the industry."
Representatives of the venue group brought up how different kinds of venues are treated with seeming incongruity in Oregon's risk level guidance. Even in "Lower Risk" counties, faith institutions can hold indoor gatherings at 75 percent capacity, while outdoor venues remain limited to 50 percent capacity.
"The live performance industry faces many reopening challenges that other businesses do not," Britt said. "First and foremost is the amount of time necessary to schedule, plan, and present performances. Venues require this lead time based on consistent benchmarks and regulations before they can offer live performances to awaiting audiences.
"Without them, venues cannot dependably schedule events, sell tickets, and hire staff. Many touring artists have already canceled their tours in Oregon due to this uncertainty. At this point, a single performance cancellation can potentially lead to financial collapse for many of our time-honored venues."
Britt and the other venue organizations assert that live events will be crucial to Oregon's economic recovery, bringing money into local economies above and beyond the price of admission — carrying over into business for the restaurant and hospitality sector.
"Furthermore, Oregon's event spaces act as a voice for who we are; our story is told on the stages, arenas, and theaters of the state," the venues wrote. "The decisions made today can bring Oregon back to a position of strength and sustainability for jobs, tourism, and its tax base. Alternatively, poor decisions will result in unmitigable damage to an industry that is already poised on the edge of economic collapse."