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For Operators Of Shuttered Arts Venues, Financial Assistance Arrives At Last

The exterior of the music venue Exit/In in Nashville, Tenn. Small clubs like this were among the hardest hit by the coronavirus shutdowns.
Jason Kempin
Getty Images
The exterior of the music venue Exit/In in Nashville, Tenn. Small clubs like this were among the hardest hit by the coronavirus shutdowns.

The long-awaited lifeline for live venues impacted by the coronavirus shut downs is finally here. Owners of small music venues, independent movie theaters and some museums can now apply for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant — a $16 billion grant program set up and run by the Small Business Administration.

"Concerts, plays, dance performances, movie premieres, museum exhibits – these are the lifeblood of culture and community, and often the anchor for travel, tourism and neighborhood food and retail stores," SBA administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said in a statement. "The SBA is committed to moving as quickly as possible to deliver this vital funding effectively and equitably — ensuring relief goes to those venue operators whose revenues have been most impacted by the pandemic."

The program was formed as a result of the bipartisan Save Our Stages act and approved as a part of the stimulus bill President Trump signed in December 2020. It allows owners of qualifying venues to apply for 45 percent of pre-pandemic revenue, up to $10 million. The grants will be structured in such a way that entities that lost 90 percent or more of their revenue between April and December 2020 will be the first to receive the grant money. The SBA says it expects to start awarding grants later this month.

This week also marks the one-year anniversary of the National Independent Venue Association — a group formed early on into the pandemic to lobby for support for small and independent music venues. Dayne Frank, board president of NIVA, said in a statement that the opening of the grant program is an "incredible relief."

"While the weight remains on our shoulders until the funds are actually distributed, seeing the light at the end of this tunnel fills me with hope for the future of our industry," she said.

Music venues and nightclubs were among the first establishments to shut their doors last year as the pandemic took hold. Many have closed, while others remain financially vulnerable to being sold. As helpful as the SVOG might be, it's clear already that if and when touring live events do come back in a real way, the network of physical spaces supporting them will look vastly different.

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Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.