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Stimulus offers $ 15 billion in relief to struggling arts venues

For music hall owners, theater producers, and cultural institutions who have suffered from the pandemic without business, the coronavirus relief program that congressional leaders agreed to this week offers the prospect of help at last: it includes $ 15 billion to help them overcome a crisis that has shut down theaters and silent venues.

The money, which is part of a $ 900 billion coronavirus relief program, is designed to help the cultural sector – from rock clubs to dive bars to Broadway theaters and museums – to survive. Many small owners have described it as their last hope of being able to stay in business after an income drought of almost a year.

“This is what our industry needs to be successful,” said Dayna Frank, owner of First Avenue, a historic Minneapolis music club. She is also chair of the board of directors of the National Independent Venue Association, which was formed in April and which lobbied Congress for relief for its more than 3,000 members.

As word of the deal began to spread on Sunday night, a collective sigh of relief ricocheted through group text messages and social media posts. “Last night was my first smile in probably nine months,” Ms. Frank said.

Broadway theaters, closed since March, have applauded the relief program.

“We are grateful for this bipartisan agreement which will bring immediate relief to our entire industry and a lifeline for the future,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of the Broadway League, the professional organization of producers. and theater owners, in a statement.

Nataki Garrett, artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, said the help would be crucial for nonprofit theaters. “Our situation was critical and dire,” she said.

But leaders of some large cultural nonprofits feared that the way the bill is structured – prioritizing organizations that have lost very high percentages of their income before considering the rest – could put them in the spotlight. End of the race for grants because they usually get a significant portion of income through donations.

With the bill due to be approved by both houses of Congress as early as Monday night, arts groups across the country cautiously rejoiced as they studied the fine print to see what kind of help they could get. Most doubt the entertainment industry can return to full action until next year, at the earliest.

The bill allows independent entertainment companies, such as concert halls and cinemas, as well as other cultural entities, to apply for grants from the Small Business Administration to support six months of payments to employees and for costs such than rent, utilities and maintenance. Applicants must have lost at least 25% of their earnings to qualify, and those who have lost more than 90% will be able to apply first, within the first two weeks of the bill coming into force.

Grants will be capped at $ 10 million.

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

Senator Klobuchar credited local groups with a relentless campaign to persuade members of Congress of their economic and cultural value to local communities.

“These are the grassroots efforts of musicians, theaters and fans across the country,” Ms. Klobuchar said in an interview on Monday. “And it was the fact that the coalition remained united. They did not clash.

The pandemic has forced small concert halls and nonprofit theaters – normally foreign to Washington – to learn the art of lobbying. The owners spoke about the elbow grease they put into building their businesses, the ancillary benefits to local communities through tourism and restoration, and the historic role arts organizations have played in revitalizing local communities. ravaged corridors of urban America.

The idea of ​​the suffering of cultural groups in all corners of the country helped this part of the relief package gain broad bipartisan support.

In addition to theaters and museums, the bill will allow talent agents and managers to seek redress. The bill would restrict publicly traded companies and other big players.

“I wanted to make sure this doesn’t benefit Ticketmasters around the world,” Ms. Klobuchar said.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, has been a strong advocate for cultural relief – he wore a “Save Our Stages” mask during the latest wave of negotiations on Capitol Hill last week – with, understandably, particular emphasis on groups in New York, including Broadway theaters.

“It wasn’t just Broadway,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview. “It’s more independent theaters that are the cornerstone of New York. Young people come to New York, and that’s part of the reason they come – to cities in general, not just New York. “

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

For some of the mom-pop operators who found themselves campaigning for relief, the process was a must-do, even if it was baffling.

“We used to call managers and agents to book talent,” said Chris Bauman of Zenith Music Group, which operates a handful of venues in Chicago. “Now we are immersed in this crazy world of politics. Eighty hours a week of zooming in with mayors, senators, members of Congress.

“It shows that it is possible to do it,” Bauman added, fighting back tears. “Do not be outdone.”

Sarah Bahr contributed reporting.

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