The Small Business Administration was poised to cut the virtual ribbon on its Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program April 8. However, after a malfunction with the online portal, venues impacted by the pandemic will have to wait for the government agency to resolve technical difficulties before they can officially vie for their piece of the $16.25 billion plan.
The program was passed into law back in December—and received an allowance boost with President Biden’s signing of the American Rescue Plan last month.
Previously heralded by the theatre industry as the “Save Our Stages” act, the program allows an array of arts- and performance-focused entities impacted by the coronavirus pandemic to apply for grants of up to $10 million (or 45 percent of 2019 gross revenue) to cover such expenses as payroll, rents and mortgages, and renovations that might be required to meet health and safety protocols as performances begin to resume.
The span of eligibility includes multiple entities from the theatre industry, from the owners of the physical spaces to the producers of specific productions. There are some exceptions: Disney Theatrical Productions, for instance, which operates the New Amsterdam Theatre and had three Broadway productions running at the time of the shutdown, is ineligible as it is part of a publicly traded corporation.
SBA says it will prioritize grants for applicants that have reported at least 90 percent revenue loss between April and December 2020. After two weeks, priority will be expanded to entities facing at least 70 percent revenue loss. Grants for those reporting at least 25 percent loss between any quarter in 2019 and the corresponding quarter in 2020 will follow in phase three. After all priority periods, a supplemental phase could potentially provide more funds and extend the spending window for recipients.
In the downtime before applications can be accepted, hopeful participants are able to apply for an account that will facilitate the process once up and running. SBA plans to announce ahead of time when it intends to launch to "ensure equitable access," as the grants are to be distributed in the order that applications are received.
Application requirements vary by type of venue or company. Those eligible as a performing arts entity, for instance, are required to present marketing materials and a box office report from before the shutdown; venue operators will need to provide floor plans and prove the installation of certain technical equipment; a slew of background and financial documents are required for all.
The program indicates a step in getting large-scale productions back up and running, a step the Broadway League and commercial producers have regarded as financially unfeasible while capacity limits remain in place. Producers can now add SVOG to its options for aid on top of loans from SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program. Entities were initially not allowed to receive both types of aid, though that restriction was lifted with the signing of the American Rescue Plan.
Currently, Broadway productions are confirmed to remain dark through May 30; city government and health experts alike have expressed confidence that a fall reopening is a tenable goal. In the meantime, other New York venues with the flexibility to accommodate socially distanced configurations have begun to welcome back audiences.