A fund established by SF Supervisor Matt Haney to provide direct relief grants to music and entertainment venues that have been dark for the past year has gotten its first influx of public funds, thanks to the city's unexpected budget surplus.
The Music & Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund, announced by Haney in February, is getting an initial $3 million out of the $125 million budget surplus recently discovered by the city controller. When the fund was established, the city appeared to be deeply in the red for this fiscal year, but unexpectedly high property and transfer tax revenues have changed that. On Wednesday, Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors reached an agreement to allocate the extra funds entirely to pandemic relief, including money for arts and nightlife businesses.
"As Chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, I am proud to be allocating $3 million of our city’s surplus to the Venue Fund,” Haney said in a statement Thursday. “Our nightlife and entertainment venues are an important cornerstone of our city’s economy, and a vital part of our history and culture. Our venues need this money, they need it now, and we need our venues."
The $3 million is but a drop in the bucket of the overall need — the San Francisco Venue Coalition drafted a proposal last year for a $48 million fund to help them recover. And if you figure that each venue has overhead costs in the range of $18,000 to $35,000 per month, a year of being closed may have cost some venues $400,000 with no revenue coming in.
Last Friday, marking the one-year anniversary of the beginning of pandemic restrictions that shut down all venues with capacities over 100, venues across the city posted "One Year Dark" messages on their marquees and social media.
Last week we at least had the success story of Oasis, the LGBTQ nightclub in SoMa, which wanted to raise $100,000 from a recent telethon to cover back rent and expenses, but ended up raising $270,000.
But every venue in town can't hold a telethon, and they're all hurting deeply at this point.
Rob Ready, co-owner and artistic director of Tenderloin theater/cabaret PianoFight, says, "With Supervisor Haney leading the charge to create the SF Venue Recovery Fund, and Mayor Breed and Supervisor Haney’s commitment of $3 million into the Fund, we’re hopeful we might actually make it through to the other side of the pandemic. It’s heartening to see City officials recognizing the importance of these cultural institutions and backing them up with much needed direct financial relief."
Haney continues to hope that the local wealthy will commit private money to bolster the fund as well, with some local venues incurring more and more debt with each passing week.
In the December federal stimulus bill, there was a $15 billion fund allocated called the Save Our Stages act, which allows theaters and music venues to apply for a Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. The grants will give venues up to 45% of their 2019 revenue, however, as KQED reports today, the Small Business Administration has yet to open up the application process three months after the bill passed.
Ready tells KQED, regarding the efforts to keep PianoFight from going under, "We’ve had to find a bunch of money that we’ll have to pay [off] probably for the rest of our lives. We’re racking up a mountain of debt... I’m 36 now and I’m hoping to retire sometime when I’m 90."