Some of Dayna Frank’s earliest childhood memories are of David Bowie, Madonna, and Michael Jackson tearing up concert stages. Her father worked in, and eventually ran, the popular Minneapolis venue First Avenue — and though she went to Los Angeles to work in film and television for a decade, she returned to take over the venue when her father fell ill several years ago.
“I never thought twice about it,” she says. “My relationship with live music existed from the womb.”
First Avenue celebrated its 50th anniversary in April. But an even bigger milestone for Frank this year was whipping up the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) — a trade group that more than 2,800 indie venues across the U.S. have now signed on to, coming together under the common goal of staying afloat after Covid-19 took a hammer to the operations of the entire industry. In its seven months of existence, NIVA has lobbied for small-business relief and gotten 2 million music fans to send emails to Congress in support of venue aid.
As NIVA’s president, Frank oversees more than 100 organizing members working not just to spread the word about venues’ precarious positions to music fans but also to design solutions for tour and venue workers on a permanent basis, particularly around pressing topics like insurance and greater equity in the live-music industry overall.
“It really felt like there was no time to waste,” Frank recalls of putting the group together back in the spring. She’s used to meeting other venue operators while traveling for the occasional trade conference, but now she’s on the phone with venue leaders from 40 different states every day. “Our industry was shut down with three hours’ notice,” she says. “This isn’t a big-city issue. It’s also middle-of-the country folks who are not willing to let their businesses and communities get destroyed by the virus.”
Recently, NIVA set up an emergency fund, put together national campaigns with artists like Alice Cooper and Katy Perry under the hashtag #SaveOurStages, and partnered with YouTube on “unique programming” to support venues — a deal that Frank hadn’t previously thought possible, because she viewed big tech companies being far removed from locally run, indie music businesses.
From her work in Hollywood, Frank has carried over a behind-the-scenes mentality to her role as both a venue owner and now industry leader. “I consider myself like a producer,” Frank says. “We [venues] are not used to asking for things. We are used to providing. We’re not the talent — this is not our creative mission. We get the honor of executing the vision of the artist every night.”
NIVA wants to stick around as an advocacy-and-support center long after Covid passes and venues start throwing open their doors again. As Frank puts it, “First, we’re going to make sure the industry survives, and then we’re going to help it thrive.”