Federal Grant Applications Now Open to Music Venues Seeking Relief

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The Chapel on Valencia Street, a former mortuary turned music venue photographed on March 15, 2020, offered a parting note to the community. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Update, April 23: After announcing that the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application will open Saturday, April 24, the Small Business Administration changed the date to Monday, April 26, at 9am PT.

Update, April 23: After its April 8 launch date was postponed due to technical difficulties, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application will go live tomorrow, April 24, at 9:30am PT, allowing concert venues and clubs to apply for long-awaited financial relief from the federal government. In a statement, the Small Business Administration explained that it spent the last two weeks making the application more user friendly, creating a waiting room feature to accommodate high demand and enhancing security. Applicants can begin the process today by registering their accounts.

“We recognize the urgency and need to get this program up and running,” said Barb Carson, deputy associate administrator of SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance. “With venue operators in danger of closing, every day that passes by is a day that these businesses cannot afford.”

Carson said the SBA will begin reviewing applications on Saturday as soon as they are submitted.

Audrey Fix Schaefer, board member and communications director of the National Independent Venue Association, shared venue owners’ gratitude for the update. “Every single day that passes small businesses are receiving eviction notices, all the while $16 billion has been waiting for them,” Schaefer said. “This is a lifeline for thousands of independent venues and promoters in big towns and in small communities across the nation. When you’ve had revenue losses of more than 90 percent and are in fear of going under, having the opportunity to apply for the grant is a relief, no matter what day of the week it is. We’re thankful our members won’t have to wait much longer.”

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Original post, April 19:

When Congress passed the $16 billion Save Our Stages Act in December, it promised music venues their first significant relief funding since COVID-19 shut down the concert industry over a year ago. The first businesses to close and the last to reopen, music venues have still had to cover rents, mortgages, insurance costs and other bills without the ability to earn revenue—which, for many, has meant taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt or shutting down permanently.

After three months of silence, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced in March that applications for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG), which resulted from Save Our Stages, would open April 8. But the portal crashed shortly after going live, and the SBA removed it without accepting any applications.

A new application date hasn’t been announced, though SBA officials said in an April 16 statement that “over the next few days, our tech team and vendors will remain focused on testing the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal,” and that they hope to reopen it later this week. The SBA did not comment on whether the funding itself would be further delayed after applications reopened.

“At this point the delay is devastating, as the small businesses that Congress intended to save are going under as they wait for the emergency relief,” Roger Picone, production manager at Another Planet Entertainment, wrote to KQED in an email. “More businesses are going to have to call it quits because they cannot hold out any longer, all the while $16 billion is waiting to save them.”

Over the past year, several independent Bay Area music venues that nurtured local talent—including Starline Social Club, the Uptown and the Stud—have gone out of business. And without SVOG funding, the owners of those that remain are going into debt, emptying their retirement savings and resorting to crowd funding to hang on until business can resume at full capacity.

“We’ve had to find a bunch of money that we’ll have to pay [off] probably for the rest of our lives,” Rob Ready, co-owner of San Francisco cabaret PianoFight and an organizer with the San Francisco Venue Coalition, told KQED in March. “We’re racking up a mountain of debt. ... I’m 36 now and I’m hoping to retire sometime when I’m 90.”

Amid the hurdles at the federal level, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced today that applications for the city’s Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund would open on April 21. But the $3 million fund is only intended as a stop-gap measure until federal aid arrives. The San Francisco fund offers qualifying music venues grants of around $10,000. (To put things in perspective, the San Francisco Venue Coalition estimates that it takes $18,000–$35,000 a month to maintain an empty venue.) In contrast, the SVOG funding will be much more substantial, equaling up to 45% of music venues’ 2019 revenue.

On April 19, a bipartisan group of 164 Congresspeople signed a letter urging SBA administrator Isabella Guzman to expedite the SVOG funding. Even with California’s economy scheduled to fully reopen on June 15, venue owners say they can’t get back to booking concerts without an influx of funds. “We will be [financially] vulnerable for the whole of next year,” said Lynn Schwarz, co-owner of Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, in an interview earlier this month.