Government relief finally arrived this summer to tens of thousands of arts and entertainment venues that may or may not have qualified for previous federal grants and loans to businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP).

The Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVOG) were included in legislation passed late last year and targeted billions of dollars to live venue operators and promoters, theatrical producers, museums, zoos, movie theaters and talent representatives. 

The grants were awarded based on gross earned revenue in 2019. The SBA allowed grantees to request 45% of that documented revenue, with individual grants maxing out at $10 million. 

Of the nearly 9,000 grants awarded totaling $6.8 billion, nearly 500 entities in Florida successfully navigated the process, receiving awards totaling $377,253,704. South Florida fared well, with three organizations netting the maximum award. Nationwide, the average SVOG grant award was $757,000. 

Just as with PPP, SVOG came with plenty of strings attached and hurdles to jump, according to Museum of Discovery and Science (MODS) CEO Joseph Cox, who successfully applied for PPP grants to fund employees and then received an additional $1,634,051 through SVOG. 

“It was a protracted process, and rightly so, the SBA wanted to make sure that every ‘i’ was dotted and every ‘t’ was crossed. The application required well over 150 documents and we had to make sure we met all of the guidance that the federal funding allowed,” Cox said. 

MODS will use the money to cover utility costs, insurance, building maintenance and “all the overhead that needed to be maintained, even though we were closed for eight months. It also allocated funds for reopening advertising costs,” Cox added. 

Miami’s Arsht Center and the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale received the maximum award, $10 million each, but the Broward Center, a quasi-governmental entity, was not allowed to apply for PPP funds earlier during the pandemic. 

“The Arsht Center is incredibly grateful to be one of the many arts organizations to receive support from the SVOG and PPP programs. PPP allowed us to keep the arts alive even while our stages were mostly dark,” said the Arsht Center’s CEO, Johann Zietsman. “Support from programs such as SVOG will go a long way toward helping the Arsht Center recover from the extraordinary losses of revenue during the COVID era and will strengthen our financial position for next year.” 

The Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Jupiter lost more than 2,600 subscribers last year, said Producing Artistic Director Andrew Kato, just as it was about to kick off construction on a major expansion of its facilities. 

“We had to scale back from finishing the entire project because we haven’t raised the money to complete that work yet,” he said, noting the theater lost “millions of dollars” and was forced to furlough 80% of staff during the shutdown. “Without the support of the SVOG grant, reimbursing patrons for tickets and retaining our essential staff would have been impossible.” 

Smaller arts organizations also benefited, including three Broward theaters: Empire Stage, $46,580; Infinite Abyss Productions, $42,696; and Thinking Cap Theatre, $14,366. Nearly 60% of SVOG grants went to small businesses with fewer than 10 employees. 

Erynn Dalton of Infinite Abyss used her grant to catch up on back rent at The Foundry in Wilton Manors: “We were very lucky that our landlord worked with us during the shutdown, but we basically used the money to catch up on the back rent.”

Phil Dunlap, director of the Broward Cultural Division, the county agency that funds local nonprofit arts organizations and public art projects, noted that SVOG also assisted businesses that were “proportionately more for-profit — talent representatives and live music venues — but any amount of funding we can get to support the cultural sector is great.” 

Dunlap was also optimistic as this round of funding makes its way into the arts economy: “In early assessments, the majority of our organizations appear as if they will reopen. Some are still not sure when, and the Delta variant has thrown us off, but most are going to press forward.”

Of the 15,209 applications received, the SBA has come to a decision on 95% and most of the funds have already been handed out. Recipients have until Dec. 31 to spend the money on allowable expenses. 

SFGN conducted an extensive search of SVOG grants awards and has compiled a selection of awardees from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

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