Twenty separate entertainment and performing arts venues slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 19 months were approved for a combined $2.9 million in state aid.
That’s according to an Oct. 1 announcement from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which runs the $17.5 million pot of funds called the Community Stage Relief Grant Program.
It provides grants of up to $300,000 for businesses that have some kind of involvement in the “promotion and production of live events,” the NJEDA said. Eligible businesses can be covered for up to 30% of the drop in revenue between 2019 and 2020 when intense social distancing and business closures went into effect.
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.
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.
Tim Sullivan, who heads the NJEDA, said the grants will be key to ensuing live venues can “recover and reopen safely in the aftermath of the pandemic.” A full list of the 20 recipients was not immediately available.
More broadly, the NJEDA has approved or dolled out hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans to businesses that had to curtail their operations and saw profits slump amid the pandemic.
At the federal level, 333 arts and culture businesses in New Jersey have been approved for a combined $174.5 million of aid as of Sept. 27 under the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, a nationwide relief program run by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Although the SVOG was rolled out relatively late in the pandemic, many theaters, concert halls, performing arts centers and booking agencies that NJBIZ interviewed said the money would nonetheless help them reopen.
“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.
Mary Meluso, a spokesperson for the Liberty Science Center, said the grant will help the museum recoup some of its losses from the seven months it was closed during the pandemic, and “allow us to continue to scale up our operations as we see brighter days ahead.”
The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn was awarded $7.4 million, which accounts for 45% of the theater’s 2019 revenue, according to Mike Stotts, its managing director.
“Although there is a long road ahead before Paper Mill completely recovers from the significant financial effects of the pandemic, this grant is a lifeline for the organization,” he said in an email. “It will allow us to begin hiring back artists, staff and crew, help us re-build audiences after such a lengthy and devastating closure, and enable the theater to reopen in the fall.