Stimulus is providing $ 15 billion in aid for struggling art venues

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

The money, which is part of a $ 900 billion coronavirus aid package, is designed to help the culture sector – from diving rock clubs to Broadway theaters and museums – survive. Many smallholders have described it as their last hope of being able to stay in business after an income drought for almost a year.

“That’s what our industry needs to do to do that,” said Dayna Frank, owner of First Avenue, a renowned Minneapolis music club. She is also chairman of the board of the National Association of Independent Localities, which was established in April and put pressure on Congress to help its more than 3,000 members.

As news of the deal began to circulate on Sunday night, a collective sigh of relief echoed through group text messages and social media posts. “Last night was the first time I smiled in probably nine months,” Ms. Frank said.

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

“We are grateful for this bipartisan agreement that will provide immediate relief throughout the industry and a lifeline for the future,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, the commercial organization for theater producers and owners, in a statement.

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

But leaders of large nonprofit cultural organizations have worried that the way the bill is structured – giving priority to organizations that have lost very large percentages of their revenue before considering the rest – could put them behind the line for grants, because you usually get a significant portion of your income from donations.

As the bill will be approved in both houses of Congress on Monday night, art groups across the nation celebrated with caution as they studied the footprint to see what kind of help they might qualify for. Most doubt that the entertainment industry can fully return to action by early next year.

The bill allows independent entertainment companies such as music venues and cinemas, along with other cultural entities, to apply for grants from the Small Business Administration to support six months of payments to employees and for costs, including rent, utilities. and maintenance. Applicants must have lost at least 25% of their income to qualify, and those who have lost more than 90% will be able to apply first, in the first two weeks after the bill becomes law.

Grants will be limited to $ 10 million.

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

Senator Klobuchar has given loans to local groups with a relentless campaign to convince members of Congress of their economic and cultural value to local communities.

“It was the basic 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 didn’t argue. “

The pandemic forced small nonprofit music venues and theaters – usually foreign to Washington – to learn the fine art of lobbying. The owners talked about the elbow grease they put into building their businesses, the ancillary benefit to local communities through tourism and restaurant, and the historical role that arts organizations have played in revitalizing the destroyed corridors of urban America.

The idea of ​​cultural groups suffering in every corner of the country has helped this part of the overall aid package to gain broad bipartisan support.

In addition to theaters and museums, the bill will allow talent agents and managers to seek help. The bill would restrict listed companies and other large players.

“I wanted to make sure the Ticketmasters of the world didn’t benefit,” said Klobuchar.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has been an aggressive advocate for cultural relief – wearing a “Save Our Stages” mask in last week’s Capitol Hill talks – with, of course, a special focus on groups. in New York, including Broadway theaters.

“It wasn’t just Broadway,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview. “Moreover, independent places have been the essence of New York life. Young people come to New York and that’s part of the reason they come – to cities in general, not just New York. “

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

For some of the mom and pop location operators who woke up in the campaign for help, the process was a necessity to do or die, even if it was amazing.

“We used to call managers and agents to reserve talent,” said Chris Bauman of Zenith Music Group, which operates a handful of seats in Chicago. “We are now thrown into this crazy world of politics. Eighty hours a week of Zooms with mayors, senators, congressmen. “

“It shows that there is the ability to do this,” Mr Bauman added, battling tears. “Don’t be left behind.”

Sarah Bahr contributed to the reporting.