SALT LAKE CITY — Stores, restaurants and countless other businesses continue to wrestle with the weighty matters of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When to close down. When to open back up. And now, when — or whether — to close down again.
But one industry would have loved to have had such options to consider: live events.
Peter O’Doherty is president of the Utah Live Events Industry Association, or ULEIA, and owner of Special Electronics Group, a Park City-based company that provides big-screen video monitors for live events like the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo. He says live events were the first to close in the state back in early March, and now — more than four months later — the industry still hasn’t been able to reopen in any sort of meaningful manner.
O’Doherty says the industry is made up of a diverse group of actors — including performers, deejays, musicians, promoters, production staff, rental companies and more — who provide a wide range of services: stages, lighting and video, generators and electrical supply, tables, chairs and tents — even porta-potty rentals. And when the usual festivals, concerts, fairs, conventions, weddings, special events and other public and private activities became a victim of social distancing, all that business dried up.
O’Doherty’s company, for example, has essentially shut down operations. As a result, he’s in the process of moving his equipment from a larger facility in Park City to a much smaller building in Tooele.
In response to the reality the live events industry is facing, on Tuesday the ULEIA will host a “Walk for Work” rally in Salt Lake City, attempting to draw attention to the plight of what O’Doherty calls the forgotten workers of the state. He says gig-economy workers are being unduly and disproportionately affected by the lockdown and close-down policies during this pandemic, and they need help.
The “Walk for Work” is being described as a “silent and peaceful parade to draw attention to the state of the live events industry,” according to a news release from the ULEIA. The walk begins at 11 a.m. Tuesday, July 21, at the Salt Lake City and County Building, 451 S. State St., and proceeds to the Utah State Capitol, 350 N. State St.
“We are going to walk quietly up the street to show people that the industry is dead,” O’Doherty said. “We want this to be solemn and impactful, rather than a random protest.”
O’Doherty said organizers are hoping for 1,000 people at the march, but with the current fear and uncertainty in today’s climate, they simply don’t know how many will show up.
“I believe we have 500 people participating already, but whether we get up to 1,000 I just don’t know,” O’Doherty said. “That’s why we’re asking people to bring their families as well.”
Marchers have also been asked to bring photographs that represent the diversity of events that have been canceled during the pandemic. When they arrive at the state capitol, they’ll be greeted by a couple of speakers and then quietly disband, according to O’Doherty.
Through the “Walk for Work,” O’Doherty said the industry is asking for help in four specific areas:
First, financial support for businesses’ rent and establishment costs through this difficult time.
“We’re happy to stay closed to help stop the virus, but we need help, too,” O’Doherty said.
Second, employment help for employers, not just employees.
“Giving money to employees is great — they won’t starve,” O’Doherty said. “But if as an employer I got money, I’d use that money to employ people.”
Next, access to working capital grants to fund changes mandated by the coronavirus response. For example, O’Doherty said, going forward, wedding planners will need sanitizing stations at their events, and that will cost money.
And finally, money for event promotion. O’Doherty said an event promoter might be a small, two-man operation, and their best bet is to do nothing until the crisis is over. But that won’t work for his business.
“That way, I could go to a promoter and say, ‘I’ve got this grant for an event. Will you help me?’” he said.
In making this request for help from public officials, O’Doherty wants it noted that ULEIA is not saying government officials have been ignoring their pleas. The industry has been getting some help, but O’Doherty says it’s going to take an even greater response if the live events industry is going to survive.
“This is huge, and it’s important to the Utah economy. Our industry is made up of the gig economy — small jobs, maybe one or two a week — and it’s falling outside of the support many businesses are getting now,” he said. “But the more we try and get the industry going again, the rise in cases means it’s getting harder and harder. To the point where there’s nothing left for us.”
O’Doherty said this movement for supporting live events is growing across the country. He’s heard of a handful of other states — Oregon, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Colorado — holding similar events.
“It’s become a national march, started right here in Utah,” he said.