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Live Entertainment Industry Urges Federal Agency To Release Grants

Many in the live entertainment industry continue to wait for critical COVID relief aid from the federal government. 

And on Thursday, leaders in the performing arts, theater companies and independent venues released a letter, demanding that the Small Business Administration distribute Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVOG) to all eligible applicants and to immediately fix problems that have made it difficult for people to apply for funding.

“The SBA’s repeated errors and delays have endangered the very businesses and organizations the program was designed to help,” the letter said.

Those groups include the 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.

“SVOG stakeholders are experiencing a talent drain, cannot reopen, and are hanging on by a thread because this funding is not arriving quickly enough,” the letter continued. “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.”

It’s been nearly six months since the $16.1 billion dollar program became law. 

The goal was to get much-need funds to the hard-hit live entertainment industry. Eligible entities included venue operators, theater producers, performing arts organizations, movie theaters, talent representatives and promoters. 

But there’s been a litany of technical and clerical errors since the online application portal launched in early April, including the website crashing just as it opened and being down for weeks.

In late May, the SBA began sending out award notices to those in the most dire situations, a 90% or more revenue loss due to the pandemic. Yet, groups have continued to report problems, including being denied funding because they’ve inaccurately landed on the government’s “Do Not Pay” list, or learning about problems with their paperwork but with no ways to fix it.

Kentucky Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth said he reached out to the SBA to look into the matter after hearing from constituents who work in the industry, but hasn’t heard back yet. Though, he’s not surprised there’s been delays. 

“It's taken a lot longer than it should have, but it was a brand new program that nobody had any experience in doing...and meanwhile, you're overburdened with other relief programs,” he said.

Yarmuth said he’s sympathetic for the businesses waiting for this relief, and he’s joining a bipartisan group of Congressional members calling on the SBA to act urgently and address questions about what’s been holding up the program. 

“It's unfortunate. You know, sometimes we create a program and then don't worry as much about the implementation of the program as we do about creating it,” he said.

WFPL has reached out to the federal agency and did not hear back at time of publication. WFPL has tried multiple times to get more information on the program’s technical problems, but has not gotten a response. 

According to a report released by the SBA Wednesday, just 90 businesses had received a grant so far, including one Kentucky organization.

Louisville Business First reports that the nearly $1.78 million grant went to Apex Entertainment LLC, the company that runs Baxter Avenue Theatres and Village 8.

More than 14,000 businesses have applied for SVOG funding as of Wednesday.

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