Can the relief bill save local music, theater, museums?


When business is down 90 to 100 percent, help can’t come soon enough. This is how Classic Cinemas CEO Chris Johnson describes the news of the allocation of federal grants to arts venues through the Small Business Administration (SBA) after the latest relief bill passed. COVID on December 27.

Classis Cinema’s Lake Theater, 1022 Lake St., has been closed since mid-March. The other 14 theaters in the family portfolio, including North Riverside Luxury 6, were also closed, except for 13 which opened for two weeks during the summer. “We had some difficulties,” Johnson said. Classic cinemas lose 100% of their revenue during the pandemic.

The National Independent Venues Association (NIVA) advocated for legislation in the latest relief bill through a Save Our Stages campaign. Through the Save Our Stages Act, included in Economic Aid to Hard-Affected Small Businesses, $ 15 billion will be distributed through the Shuttered Venue Operators (SVO) grant to operators of performance hall organizations, theaters and performing arts; museums, zoos and aquariums; and cinemas.

Those “who suffered a loss of income of 90% or more between April 2020 and December 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic” must apply first, however, applications are not yet open, while the SBA is focuses on the new Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) funds made available in the new relief package. “It could take several weeks or even months for the funding to arrive” SVO grants, according to NIVA, on its website.

The Madison Street Theater (MST) in Oak Park, a live performance venue, has lost about 90% of its revenue according to Tina Reynolds, board member of the non-profit Oak Park River Forest Civic Theater. The association supervises and manages MST. “We don’t have an income stream going into the theater,” she said and predicts it will last another six months.

The wait for help has been tough, Reynolds said. With a volunteer board of directors doing most of the work, as well as contractors hired, relief such as PPP was not available for MST as it was intended to fund continued employment.

“While it’s incredibly optimistic that there are grants and opportunities now available, it’s been a long time coming,” she said of the 1010 Madison St.

When an aging part of the HVAC system broke down, leaving MST very cold in November, a GoFundMe campaign was launched to remedy the problem and keep the building open. Ovation, an award-winning performing arts program for young people, is the resident theater company and uses the space for its classes, rehearsals and performances. Reynolds said that with the generosity of donors, the first phase of replacing the obsolete HVAC is complete, allowing the building to stay warm through the winter months.

However, there are utility, maintenance, and mortgage bills that need to be paid.

SVO grant money can cover these expenses, as well as payroll, administrative costs, payments from independent contractors, taxes, and insurance.

As a museum, Hemingway’s birthplace, 339 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, may be eligible, but the organization is evaluating what works best for them. It is stipulated that applicants for an SVO grant “must not have received a PPP loan as of December 27, 2020”. According to Keith Strom, executive director, they are awaiting “further clarification of the program guidelines by the SBA.” With their main source of income, in-person visits, drastically reduced, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, which manages the museum, turned to a GoFundMe to “keep the doors open.” He raised $ 64,600 of a goal of $ 75,000 over three months.

The Oak Park River Forest Museum, 129 Lake St., Oak Park, also assesses P3 grants against SVOs, according to Frank Lipo, executive director.

“After the state-imposed closures for indoor museums from March to July 8 and again from November 20 to present, and for how long we don’t know, we are grateful that this federal funding has been approved.” said Lipo. “Obviously, we and our colleagues in museums large and small of all kinds have seen huge declines in various revenue streams including ticket revenue, special events, retail and so on. He thanks the community for supporting the museum.

Local operations that bring the performing arts to the community are also in the exploratory stage, including the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association, which offers regular programming for members and the community, and Open Door Theater, where they produce their own shows and also function as a place for others.

16th Street Theater is safer to pursue such a grant. The Berwyn Theater at 6420 16th St. attributes support from “people, foundations, government grants, including CARES law money and a business interruption grant” to their survival during this time, according to the director. artist and founder Ann Filmer.

“16th Street will apply for all grants and aid we are eligible for,” she said. “With the closure of our stages, we only brought in $ 15,000 in single ticket sales instead of $ 54,000 last year. Our subscription campaign brings in $ 60,000 per year, but in 2020 we only sold $ 24,000 in subscriptions. “

Concert halls can also benefit from SVO grants.

For Fitzgerald’s Nightclub, 6615 Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn, the timing of ownership may be a question. While the nightclub itself, in its current form, has been in business for almost 41 years, the current owner, Will Duncan, took the reins in early March 2020. For SVO grants, the revenues used to calculate the losses compare the numbers from 2020 to 2019. Duncan hopes the continuity of the business, not ownership, will allow him to qualify.

“I hope the eligibility is dynamic enough that I can share the information provided by previous ownership and prove continuity to overcome the hurdle regarding this recent change in ownership,” Duncan said. “I’ll probably hire a lawyer to help me navigate these waters.”

While Duncan has found creative business solutions that are safe alternatives for COVID-19, such as neighborhood truck concerts, things haven’t been easy for the company.

“Given the recent change in ownership and the rather new business entities I have created for the project, accessing grants and PPP loans has been difficult for Fitzgerald’s,” he said. “We were fortunate to be doing business during the summer which allowed us to break even and employ staff. However, after suspending on-site operations in early November due to COVID figures, we are going through a difficult winter. “

Johnson, who calls the SVO grant a “lifeline,” said Classic Cinemas is very attached to Oak Park and hopes to reopen its locations by spring if a number of things happen, including that is allowed to happen. under a state mandate, that security protocols can be put in place and that there is a steady supply of new films.

“The studios are in LA and they’re the hardest hit (with COVID-19) right now,” Johnson said.

Reynolds sees MST as a ‘community gem’ and, like Johnson, wants to see the space work, be an anchor for Madison Street in Oak Park, but also a destination for performing arts programming for the greater area. of Chicago bringing different people and businesses to the area, while also bringing value to the community.

Johnson also envisioned the day the Lake Theater opens, with construction on Lake Street now complete, the street filled with people once again enjoying all that Oak Park has to offer.


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