Press Release

Welch, Fetterman, Reed, and Bonamici Introduce Bill to Revive and Support the Economic Success of Nonprofit Theaters

Apr 9, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 9, 2024)  During the first-ever National Theatre Week, celebrated April 9-11, 2024, U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Senator John Fetterman (D-Pa.), and Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) introduced the Supporting Theater and the Arts to Galvanize the Economy (STAGE) Act of 2024. Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-01) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. 

Professional nonprofit theaters, which enrich communities and bolster local economies in every state, have experienced a lagging recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Theaters have been forced to reduce staff and productions, and many have closed permanently. The STAGE Act will establish a new grant program, administered by the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, that would provide $1 billion annually to support the industry. The grants would be used to pay rent and payroll, employ artists and support professional personnel, attract new audiences, invest in industry workforce development, study how to best sustain the long-term success of this industry, and– most importantly–ensure the show can go on.  

“The magic a professional nonprofit theater creates doesn’t end with the final curtain call—it reaches far beyond the theater and into our communities by creating and supporting jobs and generating economic activity in our local communities,” said Senator Peter Welch. “But post-pandemic, nonprofit theaters in Vermont and across America have struggled to keep the marquee lit. The STAGE Act is an investment in our communities, in jobs, and in our local economy.” 

“The performing arts have long been a driving force for cultural and economic vitality in cities and towns across the country. But in recent years, theaters have faced unprecedented challenges and struggled to stay open,” said Senator John Fetterman. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in leading this effort to revive a critical industry. The STAGE Act isn’t just about saving theaters – it’s about investing in the communities in Pennsylvania and across the country that rely on these spaces to keep their economies strong.”

“Non-profit theaters bring people together to experience impactful live performances that resonate with diverse audiences.  They put community, public good, and artistic expression above profits, while also driving additional economic activity whenever they stage performances,” said Senator Jack Reed. “The pandemic took a serious toll on nonprofit theaters. The STAGE Act shines a spotlight on the important work these theaters and artists do and offers much needed support to continue their mission. I’m pleased to join my colleagues in cosponsoring the STAGE Act to keep non-profit theater doors open so they can continue to engage audiences, promote the arts, and strengthen our communities.”

“Arts and culture, including the performing arts, are important to thriving communities and a strong economy. In my conversations with nonprofit theater directors and artists across NW Oregon, I’ve heard that many are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and are at risk of closing without additional support. I’m pleased to introduce the STAGE Act with Senators Welch, Fetterman, and Reed to unlock funding for these organizations so they can continue to provide quality arts programming and jobs,” said Representative Suzanne Bonamici.

“The STAGE Act provides critical funding to non-profit theaters and shines a spotlight on the vital roles our organizations play in our communities. Non-profit theaters are not only cultural beacons but also employers, educators, and workforce development centers. Unfortunately, our field is still endangered by the impact of the pandemic and economic headwinds, with dozens of theaters having closed and many more struggling to stay afloat. This bill provides much needed support for the work that we do and acknowledges the significant impact we have in the communities in which we operate. We applaud Senators Peter Welch, John Fetterman, Jack Reed, and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici for their leadership and support for our industry,” said Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director, The Public Theater, Founding Member of the Professional Non-Profit Theater Coalition.

“Union creative professionals know firsthand the economic and cultural power of the nonprofit performing arts and the critical importance of federal arts funding. Unfortunately, right now, the reality is that much of the nonprofit arts sector faces financial headwinds that have resulted in less work and fewer job opportunities for members of DPE’s affiliate unions. The STAGE Act will help ensure continued employment in family-supporting jobs for union creative professionals and all performing arts workers, while also supporting needed efforts to ensure a sustainable future for this important sector of our economy. I applaud Senator Welch, Senator Fetterman, Senator Reed, and Representative Bonamici for ensuring that creative professionals were not left behind in this bill,” said Jennifer Dorning, President, Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE). 

The first-ever National Theatre Week is occurring from April 9-11, 2024. During National Theatre Week, theater leaders and professionals from across the country are traveling to Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of the professional non-profit theater industry. 

The Supporting Theater and the Arts to Galvanize the Economy (STAGE) Act of 2024 is endorsed by over 170 theaters from across the United States, as well as national theaters, arts, and economic organizations, including: the Professional Non-Profit Theater Coalition (PNTC); the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE); the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC); the Theatre Communications Group (TCG); the League of Resident Theaters (LORT); the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT); the Theatre for Young Audiences/USA; and the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA).

The nonprofit arts sector generated $151.7 billion in direct spending by organizations and attendees in 2022, and $29.1 billion in tax revenue. The nonprofit arts sector supported 2.6 million jobs, and provided $101 billion in personal income to workers in communities across America. When polled by the Americans for the Arts about the arts and cultural venues in their communities, 86% of respondents said they “would feel a sense of loss if that activity was not available,” and 79% said they felt the arts are “important to their community’s businesses, economy, and the local jobs.” 

Despite these economic contributions and the support of the public, the nonprofit arts—especially nonprofit theaters —are struggling to stay open after the pandemic. Audiences are down 20-50% from pre-2020 levels. Inflation and higher-than-average operating costs are hurting the bottom-line. Many theaters have mounted productions with limited runs or scaled-back seasons. Many theaters throughout the country have closed.  

As a member of the House of Representatives, Senator Welch led the Save our Stages Act, bipartisan legislation to provide Small Business Administration grants for independent venue operators affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While this federal aid kept theaters in operation during the darkest days of the pandemic, a new infusion of support is needed for professional nonprofit theaters.  

Read more on the STAGE Act here. 

Download bill text here