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California Approves Funding for Music Venues, Arts Recovery in New State Budget

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Helado Negro plays a sold out show the Great American Music Hall during night three of the Noise Pop Music and Art Festival on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (Estefany Gonzalez)

The California State Legislature approved a $262.6 billion operating budget on Monday that Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign into law this Thursday. Boosted by a $76 billion state surplus and $27 billion in federal aid, the budget includes direct cash payments to Californians struggling from the economic fallout of COVID-19, restoration of pandemic budget cuts and expansions in healthcare and homelessness services. It also includes substantial funding for the arts—a major driver of California’s economy, and one of the industries hit hardest by COVID-19 shutdowns.

The budget, set to take effect when the fiscal year begins July 1, includes $150 million in relief funding for independent venues, live entertainment business and minor league sports.

Advocacy groups like the California chapter of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) have pushed for this kind of support at the state level for months while federal funding is still being distributed. Though Congress approved $16 billion in emergency aid for venues in December 2020, the Small Business Administration delayed payments several times, and has only moved through about half of the applications. The delays have left independent venues struggling and accruing debt, and numerous venue owners in California have argued state funding is also crucial for the live music industry to recover.

“The operating cost to reopen the venues is very expensive,” David Mayeri, CEO of The UC Theatre in Berkeley and a NIVA California organizer, told KQED in March. “To make it COVID-safe is expensive. To start marketing to build consumer confidence to come back and buy tickets—we need additional help for that. We need subsidies.”

A trailer bill, still pending the State Legislature’s approval, lays out parameters for how the $150 million will be spent. It would create a California Venues Grant Program within the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, which would administer grants equal to 20% of each eligible venue’s 2019 gross earned revenue, or up to $250,000.


The new state budget also allocates relief funding to the California Arts Council. $60 million will go towards implementing its Creative Corps pilot program, which enlists artists to create public health PSAs and other outreach campaigns. $40 million will support the Creative Youth Development Grant, which supports youth art and civic engagement programs. A $50 million fund will assist arts institutions in their recovery from the pandemic. And $1.7 million has been budgeted for the National LGBTQ Center for the Arts to install a new air circulation and filtration system for a safer reopening.

The budget also includes $390 million for libraries, many of which support arts programs; of that amount, for instance, $26.5 million will go to the San Francisco Chinatown Media and Arts Collaborative, a partnership of the Chinatown Community Development Center, Chinese for Affirmative Action, the Chinese Historical Society of America, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, the Center for Asian American Media and the Chinese Culture Center.

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