As a civic landmark of downtown Owensboro, the RiverPark Center is a local venue dedicated strictly to regional performing arts events.
In an average year, the center hosts 135,000 people through about 400 entertainment and educational events.
But the 100,000-square-foot facility has remained empty this year following federal and state bans on large gatherings and the nonprofit consequently lost its primary source of revenue.
“We can’t sell tickets to anything and that’s the name of our business,” said executive director Rich Jorn. “We have no income.”
To help raise awareness about the pandemic’s impact on the performing arts, the RiverPark Center will join live event venues across the nation Tuesday night by brightening its halls with red lights.
#WeMakeEvents, a coalition of entertainment industry professionals, is leading this movement to urge Congress to vote for the RESTART Act (S.3814), which would establish a loan program and provide other economic relief for impacted businesses, and to support an extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
The coalition aims to illuminate the continued threat of job losses in the sector. Since March, #WeMakeEvents estimates that 96% of live event venues have cut staff while 77% of people working in the industry lost 100 percent of their income.
The RiverPark Center reduced its staff size to two full-time and two part-time employees — down from nine full-time, four part-time and a few dozen stagehands and bartenders.
“We’ve had to look at permanently reducing our staffing model,” Jorn said. “Our industry is hurting. We were the first thing to close down and we will be the last thing to open up.”
Small, independently-owned venues will struggle to survive the pandemic and their loss could alter the fabric of the arts community.
“A lot of artists got their start in small independent venues,” Jorn said.
To help pay some bills, the center recently rented the venue out for a dance competition and hosted a few free outdoor events with bar service in August. The last Disney-themed and costume-encouraged event will be Friday from 6-9 p.m.
Donations and sponsorships also help — and are most welcome — but these measures have not been able to compensate for the loss of income. Despite the bleak situation, Jorn feels that the RiverPark Center will see a tomorrow.
“Hopefully we can outlast this pandemic.”