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Resounds: Sean Lynch

Anna Paige
Sean Lynch at the YPR studios

Sean Lynch is owner of the Pub Station, a live music venue and events center in downtown Billings, co-owned with wife Ann Kosempa. The venue, situated in a renovated Greyhound Bus Station, opened in November 2014. Since then, they’ve brought thousands of bands into Billings, from country to rock, big names to no names. In 2017 expanded the venue to two stages with a capacity of 800 people.

Lynch estimates the venue brought upwards of $24 million annually into the Billings economy and attracted more than 55,000 people to downtown for live music or private events.

And then COVID 19 struck, and venues across the country were shuttered.

Sean Lynch has been instrumental in lobbying at a state and national level for funding to support for entertainment venues, which were the first to close during the onset of the pandemic, experiencing a complete loss of revenue. He is currently the co-chairman of a reopening task force and the chair of the advocacy side of reopening for National Independent Venue Association, a group of more than 3,000 independent venues across the U.S. NIVA was instrumental in pushing for this funding through their advocacy campaign, “Save Our Stages.”

In December, that action bore fruit, as the SBA announced the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, which allocated more than $16 billion in relief funding to venues, performing arts centers, theaters, museums, and qualifying event spaces across the country. Operators could apply for grants of as much as $10 million.

Performance venues will be some of the last to open in the nation, as their primary objective is to gather large amounts of people together, often in close contact, to share in a collective experience.

Montana’s restrictions on gatherings were lifted in early 2021, and there is nothing preventing large events from taking place. But the entertainment industry can’t just spring back into action. There’s a connected web of routes, finances, and varying guidelines for each state that continue to make a return to live performances very tricky.

“We are really in a hard spot,” said Lynch. “The depth of the industry and how intertwined everything is . . . I could open right now at full capacity, but I don’t have anything to give you. Not only do we have to make it financially work, but the artist has to, also.”

In Montana, the arts were a $1.8 billion industry in 2019, representing about 3.4 percent of the Montana economy with 15,811 jobs (about 3 percent of employment in the state), according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Corby Skinner is an independent marketing professional with an enormous capacity for assessing issues and creating positive, effective messages.
Anna Paige is a Montana-based journalist, poet and educator. She is originally from Wyoming and has lived in Billings for more than a decade, where she co-founded Young Poets, winner of the 2021 Library of Congress Award for Literacy.