CAPITAL REGION – The Palace Theater in Albany recently became one of 10 arts venues across New York state to receive financial assistance from the federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grants.
The $16 billion program, run by the Small Business Administration, is meant to help small independent venues, promoters, movie theaters and other entertainment venues that have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
During the last year, the Palace, like many arts organizations, has certainly been hit hard. After closing its doors at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, the venue lost more than 90% of its income in the ensuing months.
Late last week, the Albany theater saw financial relief with the first installment of the grant, which comes in at a total of just over $2 million.
“The Palace Theatre is thrilled beyond words to have received a grant from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant,” wrote Sean Allen, director of marketing, in a statement.
“We would like to thank Senator Chuck Schumer, NIVA (National Independent Venue Association) and all of the representatives and organizations that worked to make the SVOG a reality. While this funding doesn’t fill every gap left behind from having our doors closed for 16 months due to COVID mandates, it goes a long way to help us get back on our feet and ensuring that the Palace Theatre will be here to welcome patrons back to our historic venue this year.”
While the wait is over for the Palace, many other venues are still awaiting an answer.
According to the SBA, since it started accepting applications in April, 14, 2020 venue operators and other eligible entities have applied for the grants, requesting a total of $11.4 billion in funding. As of Thursday, 90 grants had been awarded for a total of $127.9 million.
For organizations like Park Playhouse, which also manages the Cohoes Music Hall, the sluggish pace of the application and award process has been disappointing.
“We should have gotten money either this week or next week; that would have been the expectation and certainly from the perspective of how I was preparing for my summer season,” said Owen Smith, the producing artistic director of Park Playhouse. “I was preparing to have at least some infusion of cash this week or next week.”
The SVOG program was first passed into law in December, though the start was delayed when its application portal crashed the first day it opened in early April. A few weeks later, the portal reopened and many venue operators applied.
Through the program, venues may receive up to 45% of their 2019 gross earned revenue, or $10 million, whichever is less. Venues that lost the most revenue were given priority and their applications were reviewed first.
The first tranche includes venues like the Palace that lost 90% or more of their revenue between April 2020 and December 2020. The second includes venues that suffered a loss of 70% or more in that same time period and the third includes those that lost 25% or more between one quarter of 2019 and the corresponding quarter of 2020.
While the SBA planned to have applications in the first tranche processed by Wednesday, it appears thousands more need to be reviewed, which may impact the rest of its timeline.
However, according to the advocacy organization Americans for the Arts, despite the delays, there is some good news. The SBA is recruiting experts from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to work on SVOG and it’s moving the SVOG program operations from its Office of Disaster Assistance to the Office of Capital Access, which recently ran the Paycheck Protection Program.
“Apparently, they’re taking steps to try to cut the red tape and get things moving, which is great to see but a lot of arts organizations now we’ve got people banging on our doors saying ‘When are you going to have this show? When are you going to have that show?’ Audiences want to get back in here. Individual artists want to get back out on the road and venues need to have the working capital to hire new staff and get the lights back on,” Smith said.
Park Playhouse, which falls into that second tranche, has planned a summer season, including productions like “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Matilda.” Smith said they’re working on getting by without the funding, improvising and adjusting as needed but it remains challenging, especially considering the cost of materials used in these productions is on the rise.
Other venues, like Proctors Collaborative, Troy Music Hall, Caffe Lena and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center all applied for the SVOG and are waiting to hear back.
Proctors, like Park Playhouse, is in the second tranche, while Caffe Lena and SPAC are in the third.
“The process has been lengthy, and perhaps not as smooth as one would hope, but there are always snags in any new program. Mainly, we are just grateful that support like this is available to a whole sector that was shuttered for over a year,” SPAC said in a statement.
“At this point, it’s a waiting game. It was a waiting game to get the application up and running; it was a waiting game once it crashed and needed to be retooled and now since applications have been accepted it’s a waiting game again . . . you start to [think] Is there going to be an end in sight? But we trust that ultimately there will be,” Smith said.