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Arts venues welcome COVID grant program to get through 2021

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jan 22, 2021
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Between April and July last year, the fine- and performing-arts industries lost about $42 billion in revenue, according to one estimate. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
COVID-19

Arts venues welcome COVID grant program to get through 2021

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jan 22, 2021
Heard on:
Between April and July last year, the fine- and performing-arts industries lost about $42 billion in revenue, according to one estimate. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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Arts organizations are hoping they will be more of a priority for the new administration of Joe Biden. For now, there’s $15 billion in grants for struggling venues in the latest COVID relief bill.

The money will go to smaller places, like concert halls and theaters. Businesses and venues whose revenue dropped by more than 90% will be first in line.

Chris Johnson would qualify. He owns 15 movie theaters in Illinois and Wisconsin.

“We’re down 99.5%,” he said. “We’re waiting to get back open.”

All of Johnson’s theaters are closed now. He’s hoping to reopen in February or March with the new “Tom and Jerry” movie, followed by Marvel’s “Black Widow,” if it’s released by then. In the meantime, Johnson will continue opening his theaters for private events. Last year, a dance school showed a video of a recital that parents would normally watch live.

“Actually, it was kind of funny ’cause they got to watch it in recliners,” Johnson said.

He is also charging up to $250 a day for personal messages on his theaters’ marquees: ” ‘Happy birthday,’ ‘love the kids,’ or whatever it is, and people are doing messages to their dogs.”

But Johnson said he still needs a grant for things like rent, payroll and utilities.

Audrey Fix Schaefer works for I.M.P., which owns several live-music venues in the Washington, D.C., area. All have been closed since March, and she has no idea when they’ll reopen.

“If I had a crystal ball, it would be in shards of glass at my feet right now,” she said.

Schaefer is hoping for some outdoor shows this summer, moving indoors by the end of this year. But even after live venues are allowed to reopen, she said, it’ll still take a while for them to book bands.

“There’s so many intricacies in it that it’ll be three to five months,” she said.

During that time, they’ll keep losing money. Colorado State arts management professor Michael Seman said that would be a continuation of last year.

“Just for fine and performing arts, we estimated between April and July of 2020, there was about $42 billion that was lost,” Seman said.

He called the $15 billion in COVID grant money a great start. But the arts business will need more federal help to survive an uncertain year.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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