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Guest Features: Zach Boswell, Kristyna Nedele, Brad Nelms

This week we sat down (virtually of course) with representatives of We Make Events - Red Alert campaign (#WeMakeEvents, #RedAlertRESTART, and #ExtendPUA). Zach Boswell is representing the initiative in Austin, and Kristyna Nedele is representing We Make Events in Denver. We also had the opportunity to speak with Brad Nelms, Director of We Make Events - North America. Brad, with the support of 9 committee members and 60 regional teams, was able to create a national event in just 16 days!

“We want to come back as safely as possible and we know that it will take time, but we NEED support” Zach explains. This same message is being preached by scores of individuals across the industry, and Zach will put his action where his mouth is when he lights the city of Austin in red tonight as part of the #RedAlertRESTART campaign.

What began in Germany in June as a response to a government extension on live event bans, and quickly followed suit in the U.K. in August, is now making its way to North America tonight, September 1st, from 9 pm–12 am local time. The initiative is a widespread effort to encourage Congress to pass the RESTART Act.

The RESTART Act is based on small business relief funding, not unique to the entertainment industry, however, and if passed would benefit venues, bussing and trucking companies, distributors, and production businesses that make up the industry. As part of the Act, those that have lost more than 50% of their 2020 income, based on 2019 earnings, can apply for low-interest loans or grants for up to 45%.  The scope of impact the live event industry has is large - it directly impacts areas such as the travel industry, hotels, restaurants, and live event generated tax dollars. As a direct result of providing relief to venues, the benefits would extend to its employees, such as being able to keep them on salary. This Act offers an extended timeline that so many businesses need to re-open when the time is safe.

The Act is not complete, which is why We Make Events is also pushing to extend Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) for the industry’s contractors and freelancers, who have not been allowed to work since March, putting over 12 million people out of work. Tonight’s show of solidarity is expected to see 1,300+ venues across North America, from Honolulu to Vancouver, light their exteriors in red. This will be made possible by 60 regional teams putting in many hours to produce an event on such a short timeline. Just a few weeks ago, 727 U.K. venues, buildings, and homes went red for the same initiative. The collaborative symbol hopes to underline to the public and Congress just how grave things are feeling in the live events industry.

The entire industry, from festivals to opera houses, has been affected and will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Producers, stagehands, technicians, vendors, you name it, are all out of work. #WeMakeEvents, the parent organization leading this campaign, claims that “77% of people in the live events industry have lost 100% of their income, including 97% of 1099 workers.” Most will remain without income until at least 2021. 

As the GM of ILIOS, Zach has experienced the difficulties many businesses and individuals are going through first hand. With South by Southwest traditionally kicking off the start of the season for many production professionals in Austin, the absence of the event left companies hurting. In a normal year, his typical full-time crew of 17, plus 60+ contractors would collaborate to work on this event alone. This year, the company lost nearly $600,000 in revenue when the event was canceled, contractors with plans to work the event lost anywhere from $2,000 to $4,500 each, and the company was forced to return $180,000 worth of deposits. In normal years, ILIOS would have already worked SXSW and 200 additional events. Today the total stands at 25.

Aside from the nuts and bolts of the business, Zach is passionate about mentoring young individuals in the live music industry, especially in the field of lighting. He hopes that this movement will generate enough support to encourage aspiring production professionals to hold on and continue in the field. “We need professionals!” Zach emphasizes. If we want to come back in the safest way possible, we need trained producers to be supported and ready to go when that time comes. We also touched base with Kristyna Nedele, an event professional involved in the coordination side of Denver’s #RedAlertRESTART movement. She explains: "Over the last 5 months, there has been a level of uncertainty on what happens next. Places have started to open and have been able to adapt to this ‘new normal,’ but it seems that people have forgotten about the events industry, and don’t really understand how many people this is affecting. Taking a stand, having our voices heard and not forgotten is huge. I love being able to work on such an impactful project with my work family. Help us come out [on] the other side strong, healthy, and ready to ROCK!" Tonight's initiative is all about getting Congress to act, by sharing the scope of the issue and how many people it affects. “This isn't about politics, this is about people. This is a human issue and we have real problems that every single member of our live events community is at risk of. We have our back up against the wall, and if we don't do something now to create immediate action more people will suffer and that’s what we’re trying to fix,” explained Brad Nelms, Director of We Make Events - North America.

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