Relief may be in sight for Capital Region theaters and other cultural institutions.
The $900 billion federal COVID relief bill recently approved by Congress includes the Save Our Stages Act, which provides $15 billion in grant programs for music venues, performing arts centers and others.
“First, the entire bill of support is a welcome relief for the country and the community,” said Proctors Collaborative CEO Philip Morris in a statement.
“Proctors will only survive in a vibrant economy once the fear of COVID has passed. The bill supports our entire economy. Second, the section aimed at live entertainment is an acknowledgment of the disastrous impact COVID and its related closures has meant for artists, actors, designers, stagehands and facilities like Proctors, Capital Repertory Theatre and Universal Preservation Hall. This may be the lift we need to get to a reopening.”
Save Our Stages was introduced this summer by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and House Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Roger Williams (R-TX). It calls for Small Business Administration grants to cover employee pay as well as overhead costs.
Local leaders like Morris, as well as Billy Piskutz, formerly of the Palace Theatre, and others joined together with Senator Chuck Schumer in support of the act in September, sending a message about the necessity of the funding.
The Palace lost 90% of its income due to show cancelations and postponements and had to furlough 80 part-time employees and lay off close to 50% of its full-time staff, including Piskutz. Proctors furloughed 80% of its staff, leaving 34 full-time employees. The Saratoga Performing Arts Center laid off four staff members in July, and leaders like CEO and President Elizabeth Sobol and the Chief Financial Officer Jay Lafond took 25% salary reductions. The Egg laid-off nearly all of its staff members, including the executive director, Peter Lesser.
“The Egg typically relies on revenue from ticket sales, theatre rentals and other earned revenue from related contracted services for over 70% of its income which has been reduced to zero since March 2020. A Save Our Stages grant would greatly assist the organization through this extended period of closure and enable us to make the necessary preparations to re-open when that day finally arrives.”
The relief bill, which incorporates the Save Our Stages act under “Section 324: Grants For Shuttered Venue Operators,” allows venue operators, promoters and others to apply for non-repayable grants that cover up to 45% of the venue’s 2019 revenue. The funds will be distributed in two rounds of grants, with a limit of $10 million in the first round and a limit equal to 50% of the first grant for the subsequent round.
On a national level, the entire industry has been hurting, with musicians and agencies on pause, as well as stagehands and others.
“It will be a lifeline for one of the hardest-hit industries and, as New Yorkers, we can all be proud and deeply appreciative of the support from our congressional leaders who helped shepherd through this critical legislation,” said Sobol in a statement.
“I came from the world of artist management and my former colleagues have been utterly devastated by the effects of COVID. Save Our Stages helps these amazing people who are essential to the functioning of the concert world. Today, I breathe a sigh of relief for them.”
That’s part of the reason Saratoga Springs’ Caffe Lena supported Save Our Stages.
“I think the most significant thing here is that it is preserving a music ecosystem or a performing arts ecosystem,” said Executive Director Sarah Craig. “If Caffe Lena were saved but there were no agencies, no other venues for artists to travel to, no stagehands to make it all possible, there would be no point in having Caffe Lena or it would be a very, very different thing . . . it’s saving an industry that we are a part of.”
While it’s not yet clear whether SPAC or Caffe Lena will receive these grants, the fact that Save Our Stages was part of the relief bill at all sends a strong message.
“When there are so many immediate human needs on the table right now — we’re talking just food and shelter — to actually have the arts funded as part of a mix of saving what is essential for us as a nation is extraordinarily validating and encouraging,” Craig said.