Keep Music Live Will Provide Grants to Small, Live Music Venues, Prioritizing Women-, LGBTQ+- and BIPOC-Owned Businesses

by Mark Van Streefkerk 

Since in-person events have been canceled this year due to COVID-19, live music venues are among the hardest hit businesses. Concerts, performances, and shows have been canceled since March, and without income, small venues are struggling to keep the lights on. Keep Music Live (KML) is a fundraising campaign that seeks to raise $10 million to distribute in grants to live music venues with occupancies of under 1,000 throughout Washington State. In their Statement of Equity, KML says they intend to prioritize women-, LGBTQ+-, and BIPOC-owned venues. KML is raising funds through merch sales, individual donations, and partnerships with Bartell Drugs and Elysian Brewing. The grant applications have yet to be announced, but you can sign up for campaign updates here, and follow their social media for developments. 

The Seattle music industry generates an annual $1.2 billion in sales and creates 11,155 jobs.  Venues were some of the first businesses to close and will be the last to reopen, especially since there’s no clear idea of when it will be safe to gather in large crowds. Since the beginning of COVID-related shutdowns, small venues and music-lovers across the state have shared resources and brainstormed ways to stay afloat. One of those efforts is the Washington Nightlife Music Association (WANMA), a coalition of venues state-wide that formed at the beginning of the shutdowns.

Involved with WANMA from the beginning and now with KML, Central Saloon’s Entertainment Manager Michael Gill said the crisis had one unforseen positive: it helped strengthen the community. “That had never happened ever — where all of a sudden, venues are closed all at once because of a natural disaster. It was really heartwarming to watch cooperation right from the beginning,” he said. 

Community-building efforts coalesced into the new campaign KML, which officially debuted on October 13, starting with “Missing: Live Music” flyers posted around town to bring awareness to the campaign. 

If one-third of last year’s 1.3 million ticket holders each donated $100, that would be enough to keep small venues open across the state, according to the KML website. Whatcom Community Foundation is the 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor for the campaign, ensuring that donations are tax-deductible and eligible for corporate matching funds. KML hopes to distribute grants to small venues on an ongoing basis as funds are raised. In order for venues to qualify, they must have a capacity of less than 1,000 and have hosted live music at least three nights a week. The KML board will decide how to divvy up the funds raised with a commitment to equity.

“Woman-owned and BIPOC-owned clubs are top priority,” Gill explained. “We’ve been very communicative about what needs to be done to improve equity among venue owners, because Washington isn’t great with that, and we’ve been trying to do whatever we can and listen to what people in those communities need.”

KML recently announced a new partnership with Elysian Brewing, a company that, in pre-pandemic times, also had regular live music at their Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square Elysian Fields locations. On November 23, Elysian announced a limited release Keep Music Live IPA beer. The IPA has fresh notes of grapefruit, pine, and stonefruit and an aroma that features grapefruit and pine, with a slight floral lean. The beer is available as a six-pack for purchase and delivery from the Elysian Brewery Taproom at 5410 Airport Way South in Georgetown. The six-pack retails for $10.99, with net proceeds going to KML. 

Bartell Drugs has also partnered with KML, selling merch that includes T-shirts, hoodies, beanies, and facemasks at select locations. 50% of those retail sales will go to KML, but all proceeds from online merch sales go directly to KML. So far, notable Washington-based musicians like Sir Mix-A-Lot and Neko Case have boosted the campaign. 

Order the IPA, snag some merch for yourself or as a gift, and boost awareness about the campaign on your social media platforms to help keep music live — until the time comes when we can all gather for a show again. 

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. 

Featured image courtesy of Keep Music Live.

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