Ohio's Shuttered Venues Are Desperate For SBA Grant Funds

The Happy Dog in Cleveland
The Happy Dog in Cleveland has remained closed since March of 2020 due to the pandemic. [Dave DeOreo / ideastream]

The Happy Dog's Sean Watterson is getting ready for his Cleveland music venue's first concert in more than a year since the pandemic began.

The problem is he is struggling to come up with the money to open the doors on June 25. 

"We don't have the capital really to buy the hot dogs and tater tots and beer for when we reopen," Watterson said.

It's a problem for other Ohio club owners, too. In Ohio, Watterson said more than 100 club owners like him are seeking federal financial support. 

As the Ohio Captain of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), Watterson is leading the charge to get $16 billion in federal funds distributed by the Small Business Administration for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program.

After technical delays slowed the process earlier this year, the venues' applications have been received by the SBA and are awaiting processing for distribution of funds.

So far, only 90 of more than 14,000 applicants nationally have been awarded SVOG funds.

In Ohio, only one venue has received its funding to date and according to Watterson, it's not a small music club.

"We've used our life savings, we've borrowed against our houses, we've made personal guarantees on lines of credit, all because we knew this bill had passed and that this money was coming," he said.

Other Northeast Ohio venues awaiting funds are Cleveland Cinemas and Blank Canvas Theatre.

Blank Canvas Artistic Director Patrick Ciamacco said in an email that because he was able raise money by staging a few drive-in productions, his organization is in the third priority group for funding. The first grant awards are earmarked for applicants that lost at least 90 percent of their income. 

"I just hope there are still funds available. Sad that because we created a way to do theater and keep things going we are not as high a priority. But fingers crossed," Ciamacco said.

Despite the delay, Watterson said he is grateful the funding passed with bi-partisan approval.

"This is disappointing and frustrating that it's taken the SBA as long as it's taken, but we haven't lost sight of the people who got this bill passed into law, the biggest arts funding bill in the history of this country. And that happened because of the people who love music and clubs like ours," he said.

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