Congress has included a $15 billion grant package for performance and related arts, including theaters, in the $900 billion coronavirus relief package it passed on Monday.
The program, called “Grants for Shuttered Venue Operators” in the new bill, will provide up to $10 million in grant money to beleaguered cultural institutions.
Under the provisions of the legislation, live venue operators or promoters, theatrical producers, live performing arts organization operators, museum operators, movie operators and talent representatives will be eligible for grants if they meet the bill’s criteria.
Chief among these criteria is that the organization will have to show that in at least one quarter in 2020, it had gross revenues which were at least 25% lower than the equivalent quarter in 2019. Although the legislation provides that the organization must have been in operation by February 29, 2020, it appears that organizations which were not in operation by October 1, 2019, would be unable to show that they meet this criterion.
Grantees must also assert that they intend to continue producing or hosting performances, or otherwise remain in operation in their usual line of businesses.
The program appears to be geared to professional organizations, as the legislation excludes, for example, theaters which do not pay their performers or pay them only from tips. Under the legislation, the venues at which theater producers, live venue operators, and live performing arts organization operators work “have the following characteristics”, including a defined performance space, mixing equipment, a public address system, a lighting rig, ticket or cover charges, professionals who serve in backstage and onstage roles, and performance listings in print and electronic publications. Artists must be “paid fairly”, and, for venues which are owned and operated by nonprofits which stage free events, the principal work must be done by paid employees, not volunteers.
Grantees may not be majority owned or controlled by securities issuers, nor may more than 10% of their 2019 revenues come from the Federal government. Disaster relief, including relief under the earlier CARES Act, is excluded from the calculation of revenue from the Federal governments. Very large applicants, including applicants with venues in several states and international venues, are also included, as are applicants who present live performances “of a prurient sexual nature” or who derive more than a minimum of their revenue from such performances. Applicants must certify that the uncertain economic nature of the times makes the grant necessary.
During the first fourteen days of the program’s existence, grants will be limited to applicants whose gross revenue for the period between April 1 and December 31, 2020 is 10% or less of their gross revenue for the equivalent period in 2019. During the ensuing fourteen days, grants will be limited to applicants whose gross revenue in the 2020 period is 30% or less than their gross revenues in the 2019 period. No more than 80% of the appropriation can go to those applicants during that 28-day period.
Two billion dollars of the appropriation is set aside for applicants with fifty or fewer full-time employees. Applications for the set-aside must be submitted within the first sixty days of the program.
Grants cannot exceed more than 45% of the applicants’ 2019 revenues (or, for applicants which started in business after January 1, 2019, the average monthly revenue times six) or $10 million, whichever is smaller.
Grants may be used for payroll costs, rent payments, utilities, mortgage payments (principal and interest), repayments on debts incurred before February 15, 2020, payments for worker protections (such as health insurance), payments to contractors (with a limit of $100,000 to any individual employee of an independent contractor), and other ordinary business costs. Grants may not be used to buy real estate, prepay mortgage or other debts, reinvestment, re-lending or contributions to political policy.
The legislation designates the U.S. Small Business Administration to run the grant program. The bill gives the Administrator authority to issue regulations, including additional limitations on how the grant money will be spent.
“I think that through the horror of this pandemic and all the tears and tragedy, people embraced music and culture more and more,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D.-Minn), a principal co-sponsor (along with Senator John Cronyn, R.-Texas) of the original Save Our Stages bill. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she noted that “[people] were just alone doing it on their computers and their phones, and they want it back. They want that sense of community. So I think there was not only an obvious economic turn; no one can dispute it. Everyone knows their hometown theaters are closed down.”
The Coronavirus Relief Act has been sent to President Trump for signature, but as of this writing the document is unsigned.