How dragging the Biden administration’s feet is killing the arts


Few organizations have suffered more than nonprofit theaters in the last 16 months of the pandemic. Continuing uncertainty surrounds reopening, in part due to the government’s extremely slow response to providing the necessary funds to resume performances.

Unlike restaurants and bars, which have minimal costs to resume operations if they keep their space and inventory, many venues say they can’t just open because they need the money to rehearse, build sets, advertise and produce events.

Live performance charities large and small are in deep financial holes. New York’s Metropolitan Opera faces colossal $ 150 million shortfall, opera thread reported. The Opera projected to generate $ 49 million in box office revenue this fall, down $ 88 million from its revenue for the 2019-2020 season interrupted by COVID-19.

Live entertainment venues were among the first businesses to close, and they will almost certainly be among the last to reopen. Senator Amy Klobuchar

This estimate from last year came alongside a prediction from Metropolitan Opera chief executive Peter Gelb that it would take years for the company to return to its usual totals again due to the gloomy outlook for tourism, according to Operawire.

The Bootleg Theater, a staple of Los Angeles’ arts and culture scene for more than two decades, hasn’t been so lucky. It was strength close its doors as the city began to reopen.

“We are in a public health and economic crisis, and the live performance industry has been particularly affected during the coronavirus pandemic”, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) Said in the Senate in December. “These live entertainment venues were among the first businesses to close, and they will almost certainly be among the last to reopen. “

Half closed

Almost half of nonprofit arts and culture organizations offering in-person programs remain closed, and about half of them have no scheduled return date, Americans for the Arts found in a June 28 poll.

Many of these nonprofits have said they lack funds to reopen. More than two-thirds of these poorly funded arts organizations said they expect raising enough money to reopen the doors to take three months or more, according to the survey.

In an updated report two weeks later, Americans for the Arts reported 39% of organizations offering in-person programs were still closed to the public. Most of these groups aim to resume their in-person activities this year.

Many non-profit theaters do not have working capital. Like millions of cash-strapped Americans, they struggle from performance to performance, much like those who live on paychecks with no savings.

“When you produce a show, you put money in the bank to produce the next show,” said Chris Serface, president of the American Association of Community Theaters.

Serface is also artistic director for Tacoma (Wash.) Little Theater. “We’ve been in the dark for a long time, so we don’t have that capital to go on and produce a show again,” Serface told me.

As if financial instability weren’t enough to last, even though Congress has allocated money to theaters, so far they have only received a trickle of cash, said Serface and other.

The Save Our Stages Act – a bipartisan bill spearhead by Klobuchar and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) – was included in the $ 900 billion stimulus bill last December. It has allocated $ 15 billion to struggling arts and cultural venues through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.

Slowdown at SBA

Arts grants and the like, administered by the Small Business Administration, were supposed to be easier to apply for than Paycheck Protection Program loans.

The deployment was fragile at best. Weeks after the April start date, the SBA blamed “technical difficulties for not approving requests and sending funds. SBA reported by June 9, it had awarded grants to less than 1% of the more than 14,000 applicants.

Christopher Mannelli, executive director of the Geva Theater Center in Rochester, NY, applied for a grant in April. It took two months for the SBA to inform them that the agency had reviewed its documents.

“It’s supposed to be emergency funding, and it sure didn’t happen at all on time – and we all have urgent needs,” Mannelli said.

The latest SBA report detailed a significant improvement in the distribution of grants because the program got off to such an atrocious start.

The agency has distributed nearly 4,000 grants since the debacle in early June, according to its July 6 report. This is less than a third of the grants requested.

And apart from the bipartisan criticism voiced by Cornyn and Klobuchar of the SBA for its botched implementation, there is no indication of further federal help soon.

“I expect the performing arts field to think this is a two to three year pandemic,” said Tamara Keshecki, associate researcher at the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy. She is also a member of the board of directors of the New York Independent Venue Association, which represents independent performing arts groups and organizations based in the state.

“It won’t be like ‘we got grants, we’re reopening and everything is back to normal,'” Keshecki said.

In June, Washington State survey most COVID-19 restrictions, join virtually all other state governments allowing businesses to operate at full capacity. But Serface said that doesn’t guarantee the public will start buying tickets again.

His theater welcomed a few people into its summer youth program in early July, but Serface said there was no way to predict how willing the audience would be to return.

Still, the Tacoma Theater somehow plans to resume shows in the fall, when the production season typically begins.

“That’s the big question that none of us really know the answer to because it’s different all over the country,” Serface said. “There are a lot of variables that make a lot of people nervous, and these are some of the struggles we’re all going to face in the future.”

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