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

The Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community College lost 200 performances in 2020. It’s executive director, Shane Fernando, will help guide local arts businesses and organizations that want to apply for the Shuttered Venues Operators grant program, which the SBA will open anytime now. (Port City Daily/File)

SOUTHEASTERN NC — Back in December, Congress passed the second largest federal package (right behind spring’s CARES Act) in its Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021. Of the $2.3 trillion, $15 billion will go to the Save Our Stages Act — now referred to as the “Shuttered Venues Operators” (SVO) grant program — to help arts organizations and businesses affected by Covid-19.

Overseen by the Small Business Administration (SBA), the grant could open any day now, according to an SBA Jan. 14 webinar. It will provide much-needed monetary relief to live performance venue operators, presenters, promoters, performing arts organizations, theatrical producers, talent representatives, motion picture theater operators, and nonprofit museums.

The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) was incremental in seeing that the Save Our Stages Act was passed. Founded in 2020 to preserve independent venues and promoters nationwide through the Covid-19 pandemic, the association’s supporters and 3,000 members lobbied representatives across the nation with 2.1 million emails.


Now that the bill has been signed, NIVA has implemented a task force across all 50 states to help local arts businesses understand what they’ll need to do to gain access to the funds.

The 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 for nonprofit and public arts organizations in North and South Carolina. Fernando will be offering support to locals interested in the SVO grant.

“My role is to help mobilize our organizations to prepare to apply for this funding and connect them to resources,” Fernando said. “It is my goal that as many organizations as possible in the Carolinas receive this vital support.”

Local arts impact

The Arts Council of North Carolina reports the arts generate more than 400,000 jobs and bring in $2.12 billion in revenue across the state. According to the 2015 Economic Impact of the Nonprofit Arts and Culture Industry in New Hanover County, locally that equates to 2,076 jobs and $55.8 million — $44.1 million in household income to local residents, and $5.6 million in local and state government revenue.

But that’s only accounting for the nonprofit sector.

“When you add for-profit entities, like galleries and hundreds of independent artists, we easily double the economic impact,” Arts Council of Wilmington & New Hanover County executive director Rhonda Bellamy said.

Bellamy revealed the council received $268,092 from the CARES Act for the Arts in 2020. “Of that, we distributed $180,000 to bolster local arts organizations and another $20,000 through a Gallery Recovery Fund to support local galleries,” she said.

This time around the grant program is available to all qualifying arts businesses on a first-come, first-serve basis. SVO will help businesses make up for 45% of lost earned revenue from last year as compared to 2019, according to Fernando.

“We are waiting on the final definition of ‘earned revenue’ by the SBA,” he said, “but we anticipate the support to be considerable.”

For the 1,500-plus-seat Wilson Center, Fernando said the financial relief will help steer the ship in a more stable place, so to speak. The center lost 200 performances and rentals in 2020. It also had to let go over 180 staff members.

Though Wilson Center has a relationship to Cape Fear Community College, it doesn’t share in its state-funded revenue.

“We are dependent on ticket sales and generous donors for our revenue,” Fernando noted. “Many donors have stepped up to help us bridge the gap during this time.”

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Who can apply

For the first two weeks when the grant opens, it will serve only small arts businesses and organizations. The grant set aside $2 billion specifically for entities with 50 or fewer employees. It will stagger applicants through the first month, with hardest-hit businesses applying first: The first 14 days will open to those whose total revenue was 10% or less compared to 2019, the next 14 days to those with 30% or less compared to 2019, then it opens to everyone.

Big arts corporations and large endowments with 500 or more employees as of Feb. 29, 2020 are exempt, as are any businesses explicit in sexual nature, like strip clubs. Businesses that are majority-owned or publicly-traded cannot apply, nor can any that applied for the Paycheck Protection Program after Dec. 27, 2020. Businesses that received more than 10% of gross revenue from federal funding in 2019, or entities that have multiple businesses in more than one country or more than 10 states also cannot apply.

Eligible recipients must be:

  • Fully operational as of February 29, 2020
  • Experiencing a reduction of at least 25% in gross earned revenue during at least one quarter of 2020 compared to the same quarter in 2019
  • Operational or intend to resume operations in the future

To get a head start on the application process, Fernando suggests arts organizations and businesses go ahead and pull together financials for the 2019-2020 year.

The business and/or organization also needs to prove it:

  • Charges admission to live events
  • Pays artists
  • Has 70% of earned revenue related to putting on live events
  • Advertises events to the public

Fernando asks interested applicants to join NIVA to keep abreast of resources and information about when the grant will open.

“It’s free and we will be funneling all new data, realtime, to the membership,” Fernando said.

NIVA also has created a $3 million emergency fund that will benefit 153 venues and promoters with grants up to $25,000 — a short-term solution until SBA money rolls out. NIVA has received four times the applications it can pay out, and is accepting donations to reach an additional $11 million. It’s especially needed for this sector of business right now, which likely won’t start receiving a normal influx of revenue until well into 2022, if even then.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci announced last month he didn’t expect to see a safe return to in-person events like concerts until possibly fall 2021. That’s also when Fernando thinks the Wilson Center will reopen.

“At this time, we are focusing our operations in supporting student learning through remote internships and supporting our regional organizations in producing and developing their virtual programming through our three-camera film system,” Fernando said. “There may be other [safe and socially distanced] collaborations in the future before fall as well.”  

“Nearly 2,100 [full-time equivalent] jobs are hanging in the balance as the arts community works to preserve itself during these difficult times,” Bellamy said. “It is not just the arts community proper, but also the arts sector’s impact on restaurants and lodging has to be factored into the equation.”

Anyone with questions about the SVO grant program can contact Shane Fernando at 910-362-7890 or sfernando@cfcc.edu.

Save Our Stages Act in full:


Have arts news? Email shea@locadailymedia.com.

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