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Congress is set to approve $15 billion for entertainment venues

Appropriation is by no means a global salvation; estimated losses for the live music industry alone in 2020 are $33 billion, said Audrey Fix Schaefer, spokeswoman for the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which led the “Save Our Stages” legislative campaign. .

The bill that NIVA instigated and was introduced in June by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) Was designed to provide grants to mostly for-profit nightclubs and concert spaces that host locals and touring bands — to cover the mass payroll, rent, utilities and other operating expenses. Months of negotiations led to more key sponsors, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.), and other beneficiaries, including Broadway, regional theaters, movie theaters, museums and zoos. Omnibus legislation also allows for the creation of two new Smithsonian museums focused on Latin Americans and women.

According to Klobuchar, the bill was primarily intended to help small operations. “It’s the small towns that can have a place. It’s huge to lose that, she said in an interview. “So many times people think of entertainment and music as some kind of boutique industry. In fact, it’s one of our biggest exports and one of our country’s most important goodwill exports. Cornyn added in a statement that he was proud to play a leading role in ensuring that those running such sites “have the resources to weather the loss of revenue and rising bills.”

How far the $15 billion would stretch, however, remains unclear. Under the terms of the legislation, the Small Business Administration would direct its Office of Disaster Assistance to disburse the grants. In the first 14 days, the first crack at the money would go to those who can demonstrate losses of 90% of their gross income due to the covid-19 shutdown; during the following 14 days of the eligibility period, organizations showing losses of 70% could apply.

Over the past month, lobbyists have been asking for assurances that there will be money left over for nonprofits after the first 28 days. The sticking point is that many nonprofit arts groups have continued to receive private donations during the pandemic, on a scale that puts their revenue losses below 70%. As a result, the new legislation sets aside $3 billion to be kept in reserve after the first 28 days of grants to help meet the needs of these and other nonprofits. In addition to live event operators, the bill would offer assistance to movie theater operators and “talent reps.”

Individual grants would be up to 45% of the operation’s gross revenue in 2019 and capped at $10 million. Additionally, Congress stipulated that $2 billion of the fund would go to sites employing fewer than 50 people.

That the government recognizes the suffering of the arts and entertainment sector seems remarkable, given a long-standing resistance to providing the kind of aid it has given to industries such as banking, agriculture and autos. . For the past four years, the Trump administration has proposed eliminating virtually all federal funding for the arts by wiping out the budgets of the two granting arms – the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Each year, Congress reinstated its relatively minor annual spending plans of about $160 million each.

“It feels like a historic moment, certainly for music venues, not to mention nonprofits,” said Maria Goyanes, artistic director of Washington’s Woolly Mammoth Theater and one of many prominent artistic leaders who called for a full government bailout.

Part of the rationale for extending aid to regional theaters, said Nataki Garrett, artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., is that they are often a driving force for other local businesses, such as restaurants and bars. “Some places like OSF, we are the main economic drivers in our region,” she said. “Congress is making sure the ‘Save Our Stages’ act is an act that covers us all.”

NIVA’s Schaefer said the plight of clubs and other live music establishments was particularly dire, because unlike restaurants and retail stores, their revenues fell to zero. “There’s no amount of magic math that closing for all the right reasons helps you pay your rent,” she said, adding that hundreds of venues have already closed permanently.

Some concerns remain, however, about the fair distribution of the money. Risa Shoup, acting executive director of Off-Broadway’s Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, pointed out that many small arts groups, understaffed and underresourced, may not even have the tools to navigate application forms.

“Whatever this bill does to effectively repay costs will certainly help,” Shoup said. “But the theaters and theater companies most at risk during the shutdown are those that have traditionally faced the greatest obstacles.”