Last week, Jaclyn Bernstein, owner of the New York City–based Empire Force Events, was among a group of event-industry volunteers who set up 48 tables and more than 500 chairs on a rainy morning in NYC’s Times Square, to dramatize the enormity of the challenge faced by live-event workers during the pandemic.
“Our industry has taken a horrible hit,” said Bernstein, executive vice president of the New York/New Jersey chapter of the Live Events Coalition, which staged “The Empty Event” on July 31. Amid talk of what the industry will look like when the pandemic is under control, the Live Events Coalition is focused on “surviving to the other side,” Bernstein said. Each of the 48 tables represented 250,000 workers — for a total of 12 million workers, many of whom are unemployed or are business owners who can’t work. According to some industry reports, about 90-95 percent of industry workers are now unemployed, furloughed, or underemployed.
The Washington, D.C.–based Coalition began in March as a petition asking for federal assistance for the live events industry. That petition now has nearly one-half million signatures and has evolved into a volunteer-run national coalition of local chapters focused on advocacy.
Its focus is lobbying Congress for aid packages that address “our ability to stabilize our industry, and further protect our people and businesses until revenues return to normal,” according to a statement. The Coalition, which includes planners, hospitality workers, caterers, talent, musicians, producers, technicians, general contractors, engineers, suppliers, manufacturers, and others, works to raise public awareness of the contributions of the live events industry to the U.S. economy, which it estimates to be approximately $1 trillion prior to COVID-19.
The Coalition has a broad base, Bernstein said, ranging from “high-end corporate meeting planners to the truck drivers who deliver port-a-potties to conventions,” Bernstein said. Small businesses like hers make up most of companies in live events industry, she pointed out. It took 100 volunteers working for a week to pull last Friday’s event together, Bernstein said, and the activation was self-funded, with participants kicking in $5 to pay for signs that were placed in the empty chairs.
“We respect the fact that we can’t work now,” for public health and safety reasons, Bernstein said. With aid going to hotels, aviation, and other industries aligned with events, “we want to make sure that we are protected.”
Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.