The Beating Pulse: A Live Event Ecosystem

From programming to set design, ticket purchases to showtime, the live events and entertainment industry is a large community with major impacts on local and global businesses

By Vanessa Cadungug, Tacoma Arts Live

Photo by Lisa Monet Photography

Whether it’s your first concert ever or the fifth time you’ve seen your favorite musical, the energy that comes from a live event is undeniable. It’s as if there is a unified pulse circulating the venue as you watch a live stage performance surrounded by the community. Theater, festivals, dances, concerts, comedic acts, musicals, art studios and more give us flashes of brilliance that pierce our memories. These arts and culture events are the beating pulse of a city or region’s heart.


Within that heart’s core is an entire ecosystem of the arts and events industry, which are interconnected communities that play a significant role on the local and global economy. Within this economy, which has been severely impacted by the global pandemic, we may never see the collective experiences the same again.


According to We Make Events, a coalition of trade bodies, businesses, unions and live events workers, the live events industry employs more than 12 million people and contributes to over $1 trillion annually to the United States economy. This industry is comprised of independent venue owners, promoters, artists, musicians, agents, box offices, volunteers, designers, production teams, stage crew and administrators. When COVID-19 arrived in Washington state in March 2020 and the Stay Home Act was mandated, an entire season of events was decimated in a matter of days—the equivalent of more than a half a million dollars in impact. Since then, the South Sound’s live events scene has experienced hundreds of rescheduled, postponed or canceled events, and there is uncertainty as to when they can safely resume. Places of public gathering were among the first businesses to be forced into closing operations and will likely be the last to reopen.


In a 2016 study by Americans for the Arts called “Arts and Economic Prosperity 5,” it was noted that the City of Tacoma’s nonprofit arts and culture sector supports nearly 3,700 full-time jobs, generating $86 million in household income to local residents, and delivers $14 million in local and state government revenue.


Our City of Destiny is home to many venues with distinct characteristics and history. From the Tacoma Dome, the world’s largest wooden dome structure; to the historic theater district, home to the Pantages Theater, Rialto Theater and Theater on the Square; to the hundreds of smaller venues like Jazzbones, RealArt Tacoma, Keys on Main, Tacoma Little Theater and many others. These locations are brought to life by an entire network of teams, community members and businesses that are reliant on continued operation.


Some organizations are adapting their programs to stay afloat. There is an influx of creative solutions including live streaming events, digital education content and adjusted seating plans to accommodate physical distancing. However, not all arts organizations can sustainably support these required accommodations, thus prolonging any reopening.


With the great pause of the arts and entertainment sector caused by this pandemic, a wave of local and national relief advocacy efforts has been on the rise. On the home front, the Washington State Arts Commission works with National Endowment for the Arts, Kennedy Center and other national agencies to advocate for arts and creative workers while supporting the profound losses to local organizations.


On the national and global level, people have banned together to raise awareness and advocate for the live events sector during COVID-19. Creative campaigns like the #SaveOurStages and #WeMakeEvents have flooded social media news feeds. On September 1, 2020, independent venues and promoters across the globe showed their support by illuminating theaters, iconic structures, stages and residences in red in the #RedAlertRESTART.


As passersby read the marquees on venues throughout the city displaying messages like, “We Love You Tacoma,” there is a passionate and united desire to rebuild what has been lost in the past six months, and counting. The world of arts and culture delivers joy and entertainment to our lives and gives us the opportunity to be a part of a shared community. These experiences can inspire, provoke, illuminate and reflect new ideas and emotions that allow and empower us all to see the world differently. When it is safe to reopen, the South Sound will be creatively and vibrantly revived with the return of its beating heart: arts and culture.


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