Owners and operators of cultural venues, from Broadway theaters on down to dive bars that host rock shows, will be able to fight over a new pool of grant money from the federal government as part of the new $900 billion stimulus package that Congress was finalizing Monday.
Unlike the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that helped infuse some cash into the struggling restaurant industry earlier this year, the new round of cultural funds are grants and don't include payback provisions. The pool of funds is $15 billion, as the New York Times reports, and venues that can report losing more than 90% of their revenue since the lockdowns began — i.e. all of them in California — will get to be first in line to apply. Maximum grants, like the initial max for PPP loans, will be $10 million.
The grant program is being administered by the Small Business Administration, but it's anyone's guess how any sort of equity will be maintained in how this money gets passed out. As we already saw with the PPP program, small businesses tended to get loans that allowed them to barely squeak by if they were approved at all, while huge chain-restaurant groups and established law firms got $10 million loans rubber-stamped early on.
People are still trying to figure out the fine print, but the Times suggests that the funds will be made available to "independent" theaters, venues, and movie houses to support six months of payroll, and other costs including rent and maintenance.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who was one of the primary backers of the cultural grant funding, tells the Times "It was the grass-roots efforts of musicians and theaters and fans all across the country" that made it happen. "And it was the fact that the coalition stuck together. They didn’t infight," she said.
The fighting may still arise as it comes to light who gets priority for these grants. Venues that relied heavily on ticket sales, admissions, and concessions or drinks are likely to benefit the most, while well endowed non-profit theaters may get pushed to the back of the line, as the Times points out. Such theaters tend to make most of their revenue in donations, and it's possible that they won't be able to show the same losses that small music venues and theaters can.
But then again, a good accountant will probably be able to show whatever they want to show.
"Last night was the first time I have smiled in probably nine months," says Dayna Frank, the owner of famed Minneapolis music venue First Avenue. She tells the Times that she and others in the industry were exchanging cautiously optimistic text messages on Sunday night.
In San Francisco and the Bay Area, the list of venues likely to be scrambling for this cash infusion is long.
SFist will update you as we hear comment from venue owners in the local area, or as we learn more.
Top photo courtesy of Bottom of the Hill