SBA offers $16.25b in Shuttered Venues Operator Grants, set to open in April

Wilmington’s historic Thalian Hall has been shuttered, with the exception of scaled-down Cinematique screenings, since last March. (Port City Daily / Courtesy Thalian Hall)

With $16.25 billion on the line to help concert and theater venues, movie theaters and nonprofit museums get out of the Covid-19 hole, the U.S. Small Business Administration has officially announced its online portal will open April 8 to accept applications for its Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVOG).

RELATED: SBA to open Shuttered Venues Operators grant any day, funnels $15 billion into arts sector [Free]

SVOG spawned from the Economic Aid to Hard Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act, which can be credited to lobbying from the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and its Save Our Stages Act. NIVA formed at the height of the pandemic to help arts and entertainment venues procure some form of funding in order to stay afloat while required to shutter and refrain from hosting concerts, theater productions and other mass public entertainment events.


Executive director of downtown Wilmington’s Wilson Center, and vice president of the arts at Cape Fear Community College, Shane Fernando, was appointed NIVA’s regional outreach coordinator in North and South Carolina. Fernando said, over the last three months, he has assisted 50 organizations and businesses in the Cape Fear region and hundreds across the state in preparing to apply for SVOG.

“This support is too large to ignore,” Fernando said, “and the breadth of the eligibility up to this point is pretty open for organizations that serve the performing and cultural arts.”

The grants will serve live performance venue operators, presenters, promoters, performing arts organizations, theatrical producers, talent representatives, motion picture theater operators, and nonprofit museums. He added the worst presumption any arts organization can make is that it’s not eligible for the grant or that funds will deplete before it can even get its applications submitted.

SVOG was funded originally at $15 billion from the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021. Yet, when Biden signed the American Rescue Plan on March 11, it added $1.25 billion to SVOG to expand the money’s reach to more eligible businesses.

“While I do acknowledge the funds will be exhausted at some point, there are steps that we can take right now to prepare so we can be a few steps ahead in the application process,” Fernando added. “There is serious talk of additional support if it is exhausted.”

SVOG fund 45% of the amount of applicant’s 2019 gross earned revenue — or up to $10 million, whichever is less. Applications will open in a staggered manner, serving those hardest hit first.

On April 8 business that lost 90% or more revenue will have 14 days to apply before opening to those that lost 70%. Then it will open to businesses that experienced 25% or greater losses 28 days after its launch.

The American Rescue Plan also expanded SVOG eligibility to organizations that applied to the second round of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program in December 2020. Businesses that received PPP will have that amount deducted from the total it would have received from SVOG.

“This was a large barrier that was forcing organizations to take a gamble in trying to choose which would provide the best support,” Fernando said. “Now organizations can freely apply for both and see what their support can be for both programs.”  

SVOG funds can be used toward the following, though some stipulations may apply:

  • Payroll costs
  • Rent payments
  • Utility payments
  • Scheduled mortgage payments
  • Scheduled debt payments
  • Worker protection expenditures
  • Payments to independent contractors
  • Other ordinary and necessary business expenses, including maintenance costs
  • Administrative costs
  • State and local taxes and fees
  • Operating leases in effect as of February 15, 2020
  • Insurance payments
  • Advertising, production transportation, and capital expenditures related to producing a theatrical or live performing arts production

In 2017 the National Endowment for the Arts found $26.5 billion was spent on performing arts events, including $17 billion on theater performances, including musicals and opera. $3.7 billion was spent on music groups and artists.

According to the trade concert-industry publication, Pollstar, venues were slated to lose $8.9 billion of revenue from the novel coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

“The SBA knows these venues are critical to America’s economy and understands how hard they’ve been impacted, as they were among the first to shutter,” SBA administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said in a release. “This vital economic aid will provide a much-needed lifeline for live venues, museums, movie theaters and many more.”

On Mar. 30, 2:30 p.m. – 4 p.m., the SBA will host a webinar to review the application process with interested parties (registration here). The SBA also has frequently asked questions and video tutorials that address SVOG details, including preliminary application checklist and eligibility requirements.

The splash page for the SVOG application launched already. Individuals can sign up to be notified when the portal officially opens. 


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