Shuttered Venues Can Apply For Federal Dollars Starting This Week

A normally bustling bar and music venue, the Happy Dog in Cleveland's Gordon Square Arts District sits shuttered while the owner seeks federal support..
Music clubs like The Happy Dog in Cleveland's Gordon Square Arts District can apply for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant starting Thursday, April 8. [Tony Cross]

Crowded concert halls are still a long way off due to the ongoing pandemic, but the venues that host those crowds are soon to receive financial help from the federal government.

Starting April 8, music venues, movie theaters and theater companies can apply for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant on the U.S. Small Business Administration website.

“The SBA knows these venues are critical to America's economy and understands how hard they've been impacted, as they were among the first to shutter. This vital economic aid will provide a much-needed lifeline for live venues, museums, movie theatres and many more,” SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said in a press release.

Happy Dog co-owner Sean Watterson has lobbied for federal support since last summer as the Ohio precinct captain of the National Independent Venues Association (NIVA) with its Save Our Stages campaign.

Happy Dog co-owner Sean Watterson outside the popular music venue that's been closed since March 2020. [Sean Watterson]

"When we reopen, it's not going to be like a snap of the fingers and a return to the way things were two weeks before COVID hit. It's going to be a while before before the rust gets knocked off, before bands are touring again, before people are comfortable coming out, before everyone's comfortable with the new protocols," Watterson said. "This is beyond a lifeline. This is the oxygen we've been we've been craving for months."

In December, $15 billion was appropriated for shuttered venues as part of the COVID-19 Relief Bill, while another $1.25 billion was added from this year's American Rescue Plan Act.

Watterson said its a historic moment for the arts.

"$16.25 billion for the arts is the biggest arts funding package that's made it through Congress. For comparison's sake, if you look at the annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts, that's $165 million with an 'M' not billion with a 'B,'" he said.

As April 8 approaches, venue operators are encouraged to register online with the federal government's System for Award Management, as it's required for the application process to begin.

Grant applications will be considered on a first come, first served basis with the hardest hit venues, which can prove they lost 90 percent of 2019's earned revenue in 2020, allowed to apply first.

"I've been preparing our application for months now, actually making sure that we have all of the financial information in place, making sure we have all of the information about the shows that we've done, so that I'm in a position to be ready to apply," said Watterson.

Watterson and his NIVA cohorts are grateful to those who got the bills through Congress.

"It was co-sponsored by both of Ohio's senators, so both Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman were co-sponsors, which is great in a less than bipartisan environment, to have support from both sides of the aisle for a program like this," he said.

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