After months of dark stages, those in the arts and culture sector expressed a brief sense of relief after a second COVID-19 relief bill was signed, offering a lifeline to those institutions pushing to survive and struggling to create during the pandemic.
“It’s a long time coming and it certainly does give myself and other venue operators a fighting chance to survive,” said Ernie Schmidt, the general manager of Fox Theatre Property in Redwood City. “I’m sure for many operators this is going to be their last hope to stay in the game a little longer and to allow them to be ready to open again.”
The $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, which received final presidential approval Dec. 27, sections off $15 billion for independent performance venues, movie theaters and other cultural institutions under the Save our Stages Act. The act will provide grants up to $10 million to venues and organizations in operation on Feb. 29, 2020, among other qualifications.
An initial $2 billion of the $15 billion will be reserved to provider grants to smaller organizations with fewer than 50 full-time employees. Those who have experienced a 90% loss in revenue will also be prioritized during the first two weeks of the program’s launch then the next two weeks will prioritize those who’ve lost 70% of revenue.
Following, any arts and culture organization that meets criteria could be awarded a grant, expected to cover expenses including payroll, rent, utilities and personal protective equipment. The size of the grant will be based on 45% of the applicant’s gross revenue from 2019.
Despite being confident the historic Fox Theatre will survive the long closures, Schmidt noted “there’s still money going out but no revenue coming in,” adding that he feels for smaller venues operating through tighter margins. For many, this funding will be what allows venues and companies to survive, he said, and without it, areas could see major losses in community entertainment.
Like Schmidt, Patricia Kristof Moy, the executive director of Music at Kohl Mansion, and Christine Leslie, the executive director of Peninsula Ballet Theatre, were also relieved to learn the bill included support for the arts.
“It’s so gratifying because arts and culture is not the first thing they think about,” said Leslie. “[Art is] so vitally important to our quality of life and our mental well-being, not just for the artists but for people who are used to going and being moved and entertained.”
While the additional aid was good news, details on how the money will be doled out will greatly influence the industry’s enthusiasm. Staff time to submit aid applications can be costly, said Kristof Moy, and varying detailed documents are required for approval, potentially adding an additional burden for smaller companies.
“We’re terribly relieved and grateful the arts have not been overlooked as been the case in the past,” said Kristof Moy. “Regardless of this stimulus, we’re concerned it might not be enough and there will be a substantial reduction of companies in the area.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Music at Kohl Mansion has lost roughly 80% of its funding and many who typically donate to the organization have turned to contributing to other nonprofits aiding other desperate needs, said Kristof Moy.
Having survived on a few generous donations, grants and a rainy day fund, she said the organization is eager to apply for additional assistance while various revenue streams are still hindered. Ticket revenue and donations have been hit but so has funding from schools which have contracted the organization to teach music to students.
While waiting for details on when and how to apply, Kristof Moy and Leslie, like many organizations, have focused on submitting applications for a state nonprofit funding program announced in December. Typically, she added, the organization’s focus would be on planning performances still banned by the state.
“We will be applying for everything we think we’re qualified to get,” said Leslie. “It will be well into 18 months or more before we even have a semblance of getting back to business, especially the arts.”
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