NATO Joins Fellow Trade Groups In Calling for Immediate Release of Shuttered Venue Operator Grant (SVOG) Funds to At-Need Venues

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has joined six other trade organizations representing venues affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in calling for the immediate release of Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) funds, arguing that “delays and errors put companies at risk of permanent closure.”

The SVOG program, designed to get a total of $16.1 billion to movie theaters, live venues, performance spaces, among other related categories, was signed into law in December of last year. The deadline for dispersing those funds to tier one applicants, June 9, passed yesterday with only 90 grants awarded out of the thousands of applications received.

“The pandemic is easing, capacity restrictions on movie theaters are being lifted, major movies are being widely released, but hundreds of movie theater companies cannot open until they have rehired their employees, paid their vendors and their rent,” said NATO President and CEO John Fithian in today’s press release. “The SBA is actively damaging the companies they were supposed to help. That must end now.”

NATO urged speed in the dispersal of SVOG grants in March of this year, following Congress’ passage of the American Rescue Plan, writing that “We urge the Small Business Administration to move quickly to get Shuttered Venue Operators grants to the many businesses which so desperately need them.”

Today’s press release is printed in full below:

Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP), the League of Historic American Theatres, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), National Independent Talent Organization (NITO), Performing Arts Managers and Agents Coalition (PAMAC),and the Performing Arts Alliance called on the Small Business Administration (SBA) and SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman to immediately fully fund all Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) eligible entities and to immediately resolve interagency issues that have proven a barrier to funding for SVOG applicants, which are suffering deeply.

The $16.1 billion SVOG program, signed into law in December 2020, provides eligible movie theaters, live venue operators and promoters, talent representatives, and performing arts organizations with grants equal to 45% of their 2019 gross earned revenue, up to a maximum of $10 million.

Nearly six months later, the SBA’s repeated errors and delays have endangered the very businesses and organizations the program was designed to help. The SBA has now missed its June 9 deadline to grant funds to those businesses suffering 90% or more losses and to begin making grants to the second tier of businesses suffering 70% or more losses.

More than 4,910 small business owners in the first priority period, those with the greatest need, and an additional 10,000 independent businesses that fall into the second and third priority periods, are still waiting for emergency relief funding. If every one of the 500 reviewers assigned to the program reviewed just one application per day since the application portal opened, approximately 14,000 applications submitted could have been fully processed by now. Yet as of June 9, the SBA reported it had awarded a total of 90 grants.

SVOG stakeholders are experiencing a talent drain, cannot reopen, and are hanging on by a thread because this funding is not arriving quickly enough. If SBA doesn’t urgently issue funding while addressing interagency challenges, small businesses that have done everything they could to scrape by and hold on will close due to no fault of their own.

The detailed and stringent application process and required audit procedures built into the SVOG program ensure that funding will go only to eligible entities, as Congress intended and as confirmed by the SBA’s SVOG team to stakeholders on June 9.

SVOG stakeholders are heartened that our Congressional champions have continued to fight for proper and swift execution of the program, and that the White House is increasing its oversight and working to address interagency issues to get SVOG fully implemented.

In order to prevent further damage to these businesses and to the economy, SVOG stakeholders call on the SBA to act now.

“The nationwide recovery of the live arts and entertainment ecosystem depends on the successful delivery of this vital federal relief. As the performing arts venues and organizations that are the fabric of communities across America, we are proud of collective efforts to fight for our survival, and we are rallying to cross the finish line,” said Lisa Richards Toney, President and CEO, Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP).

“We remain dismayed that the life raft given to our industry by Congress back in December has yet to be implemented, “ said Ken Stein, President and CEO for the League of Historic American Theatres. “Just today we heard from a member theatre in North Carolina that funds won’t reach them in time to cover the costs of hiring back additional staff as they had planned. That one theatre means both jobs lost and, about $15 million in patron spending in a community that won’t be coming to local businesses who are hurting as well. This scenario is happening across the nation, and it did not need to be this way. The funds are there. They have been there for six months. They need to be disbursed.”

“The pandemic is easing, capacity restrictions on movie theaters are being lifted, major movies are being widely released, but hundreds of movie theater companies cannot open until they have rehired their employees, paid their vendors and their rent,” said NATO President and CEO John Fithian. “The SBA is actively damaging the companies they were supposed to help. That must end now.”

“We couldn’t be more grateful that Congress saw fit to provide $16 billion to Save Our Stages, but this untenable wait for the emergency relief has been torturous and damaging to our industry, our employees, and our communities,” said NIVA Executive Director Rev. Moose. “With the changes made by the White House and our Congressional Champions, we are hopeful that the SBA will award the grant funds without any further delay.”

“The inability of the SBA to release legislated funds designated for those eligible for the Shuttered Venues Operator Grants, has jeopardized the careers and livelihoods of thousands of workers: musicians, their reps, promoters, stagehands, venue staff, ad infinitum, and jeopardized the very fabric of culture that is the basis of good community living. We are only asking for the opportunity to resume our viable and vital businesses and restaff our offices to begin competing with the multinationals who have seemingly unlimited funds and power,” said NITO president, Frank Riley.

“COVID forced the arts world to be the first to close and the last to reopen. Over 95% of the revenue of artists, gig workers and talent agencies have been annihilated for 15 months and this is unsustainable,” said Charlotte Lee, Founder of Performing Arts Managers and Agents Coalition (PAMAC). “Despite this, our creative work to restore the moral and emotional health of a society in crisis has continued through the pandemic with no pay. Over 1 million jobs in the arts have been lost, countless businesses have shut down, and we are on the verge of more devastating losses. We can go no longer as we have exhausted the funds from our savings, PPP Loans, EIDL loans and whatever assistance we have. We need money now.”

“Performing arts organizations throughout the U.S. have been counting on the promise of Shuttered Venue resources to fuel rehiring and reopening plans that simply can’t wait,” said Michelle Ramos, board chair of the Performing Arts Alliance.

News Stories