Stimulus Offers $15 Billion in Relief for Struggling Arts Venues


For music venue owners, theater producers and cultural institutions who have suffered without a business from the pandemic, the coronavirus aid package agreed by Congress leaders this week finally offers the prospect of help: it includes $ 15 billion to help them cope helping a crisis that has shut theaters and silenced halls.

The money, part of a $ 900 billion coronavirus aid package, is set to help the cultural sector – from pub rock clubs to Broadway theaters and museums – survive. Many small business owners cited it as their last hope of staying in business after nearly a year of drought.

“This is what our industry needs to get through,” said Dayna Frank, owner of First Avenue, a famous Minneapolis music club. She is also the chairman of the board of the National Independent Venue Association, which was formed in April and which has aggressively engaged Congress to facilitate its more than 3,000 members.

When the news of the deal broke on Sunday night, a collective sigh of relief rebounded through group text messages and social media posts. “Last night was the first time I smiled in nine months,” said Ms. Frank.

Broadway theaters, which have been closed since March, welcomed the aid package.

“We are grateful for this bipartisan agreement, which is immediate relief and a lifeline for our industry for the future,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, the trade organization for producers and theater owners, in a statement.

Nataki Garrett, the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, said helping nonprofit theaters is vital. “Our situation was critical and dire,” she said.

However, those in charge of some large nonprofit cultural organizations feared that the way the bill is structured, giving precedence to organizations that have lost a very high percentage of their revenue before considering the rest, are pushing them to the background for scholarships As this is usually the case, you could receive a significant portion of the income through donations.

With the bill scheduled for approval by both houses of Congress on Monday evening, art groups across the country cautiously celebrated while studying the fine print to see what kind of help they might qualify for. Most doubt that the entertainment industry will not be able to get back into action until well into next year at the earliest.

The bill allows independent entertainment companies such as music venues and cinemas, as well as other cultural institutions, to apply for grants from the Small Business Administration to support six-month payments to employees, as well as costs such as rent, supplies, and maintenance. Applicants must have lost at least 25 percent of their sales to qualify, and those who have lost more than 90 percent can apply first within the first two weeks of the law going into effect.


Apr. 21, 2020 at 7:46 am ET

The grants are capped at $ 10 million.

The core of these provisions was proposed in the Senate in July by Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. As the relief efforts in Washington wore off for months, venues and institutions began to lose. According to the independent venue association, at least 300 music spots have been closed since the beginning of the pandemic.

Senator Klobuchar certified that the event groups were tirelessly campaigning to convince members of the Congress of their economic and cultural value to local communities.

“It was the basic efforts of musicians, theaters and fans across the country,” said Ms. Klobuchar in an interview on Monday. “And it was the fact that the coalition stuck together. You didn’t fight. “

The pandemic forced small music venues and nonprofit theaters – usually strangers to Washington – to learn the art of lobbying. The owners talked about the elbow grease they put into building their business, the added value to local communities through tourism and hospitality, and the historical role arts organizations have played in revitalizing the tainted corridors of urban America.

The idea that cultural groups are suffering in every corner of the country helped this part of the overall relief package gain broad support from both parties.

In addition to theaters and museums, talent agents and managers can also apply for relief under the law. The bill would restrict listed companies and other large companies.

“I wanted to make sure that the ticketmasters of the world didn’t benefit from it,” said Ms. Klobuchar.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, was an aggressive advocate of cultural relief – he wore a mask that read “Save Our Stages” during the last Capitol Hill negotiations last week – with a special focus on groups in New, of course York, including Broadway theaters.

“It wasn’t just Broadway,” said Mr Schumer in an interview. “Rather, it was the independent venues that were the lifeblood of New York. Young people come to New York, and that’s one of the reasons they come – to cities in general, not just New York. “

“The non-profit and artistic world is very important to the economy of cities,” he added. “People forget that.”

For some of the help-out mom and pop operators, the process has been a do-or-die necessity, albeit a confusing one.

“We used to call managers and agents to book talent,” said Chris Bauman of Zenith Music Group, which operates a handful of Chicago venues. “Now we’ve been thrown into this crazy world of politics. Eighty hours a week of zooms with mayors, senators, and congressmen. “

“It shows that there is a way to do this,” added Bauman, fighting back tears. “Not to be left behind.”

Sarah Bahr contributed to the reporting.