Live venues and other arts and culture organizations pummeled by the past year and a half of pandemic closures can apply for state relief later this month.
Starting at 9 a.m. on Aug. 17, venues, event promotors, booking agencies, management companies that work with live performers, and other establishments that “organize, manage, produce or list live events” could get grants of up to $300,000 through the state relief, known as the New Jersey Community Stage Relief Grant Program.
Eligibility is limited to smaller venues – those with a maximum of 2,500 seats – that hold at least two live performances a week, get at least half of their revenue from performances, and suffered a 25% loss between the second quarters – April to June – of 2019 and 2020.
Venues like the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel and BB&T Pavilion in Camden would be left out.
The state’s largest theater, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, has a combined 3,379 seats. But a majority of theaters across the state have well below the 2,500-seat threshold, often in the 1,000 to 2,000 seat range.
Those venues depend on ticket sales and large turnouts to generate a profit, but a months-long stay-at-home order and virtual state of lockdown, followed by limits on non-essential retail and indoor dining, further slammed arts, culture and tourism, causing profits to crater.
There is $17.5 million for the program being jointly run by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
“The COVID-19 pandemic hit performing arts businesses particularly hard, and now that we are able to begin safely reopening it is critical that we help them get back on their feet,” reads a statement released last month from Tim Sullivan, who heads the NJEDA.
Although the federal equivalent to this program – the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant program – was rolled out relatively late in the pandemic, many theaters, concert halls, performing arts centers and booking agencies that NJBIZ interview said the money would nonetheless help them reopen.
All told, 206 live venues and other such establishments in the state have been awarded close to a combined $120 million under the Biden-era relief program.
“It helps us to have cash to produce the fall season,” said Kelly Ryman, managing director at the George Street Playhouse based in the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center in its namesake city.
The state relief for live venues is part of a broader pool of hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans doled out by the Murphy administration to help keep businesses afloat during the worst of the COVID-19 shutdowns and ensuing business restrictions.
By an official account, the NJEDA has approved more than 64,000 grants totaling $432 million, according to public records, out of $700 million in small business relief.
“These long-awaited federal funds may help to prevent the closure of more surviving businesses after steep financial losses brought on by the pandemic,” reads a statement from Michele Siekerka, who heads the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.
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