Sonoma County entertainment venues get a helping hand


Things looked grim for the Cloverdale Arts Alliance a month ago. Their rainy day fund was depleted and they had to cut all of their programs due to the pandemic.

Next, the organization, which operates a downtown arts center and sponsors an outdoor concert series, received a federal grant of $ 90,452 through a program called Shuttered Venue Operators Grants.

“We were running out of money, so we took a loan from the Small Business Association,” said Mark Tharrington, executive director. “Now we can pay it back. “

The arts center, which normally hosts indoor musical evenings, workshops and art exhibitions, can now reopen, he said. The same goes for the free outdoor Friday Night Live concert series, with concerts booked through October 1.

The Cloverdale organization is one of more than 30 struggling entertainment-focused businesses in Sonoma County that are receiving financial assistance under the program.

Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, voted to set the schedule with Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, as part of the bipartisan COVID-19 relief plan adopted by Congress in December.

Thirty-four sites in Sonoma County alone have received or will receive more than $ 40 million from the program.

“Local businesses in the music and entertainment industry are an important thread in the fabric of our communities – they create good jobs, strengthen the economy and contribute to the culture of our region,” Huffman said in a press release issued on Wednesday.

Some of the main recipients of aid were cinema operators, with San Carlos Cinemas, which operates Santa Rosa cinemas, receiving $ 9.3 million; the operator of Boulevard 14 theaters in Petaluma receiving $ 4.7 million; and Lodi Cinemas, also affiliated with Santa Rosa Cinemas, receiving $ 3.8 million. Two Sevastopol-based theater companies affiliated with Rialto Cinemas received $ 1.3 million and $ 1.2 million for theaters in Berkeley, El Cerrito and Sebastopol.

The Luther Burbank Foundation, which owns and operates the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, received $ 2.1 million in assistance. Richard Nowlin, President and CEO of the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, said, “We are very grateful for these funds, as well as our community of loyal donors and supporters and our federal officials who have made this possible. “

Most of the grant funds will go to payroll to replace staff members who were made redundant at the start of the pandemic, he said.

“We are rehiring to bring back as many of our staff as possible who are still available, and are hiring new people as we open live shows at the end of this month,” he said. “You need a certain amount of staff to operate and we would expect smaller houses to begin with. … However, we will have the same expenses to prepare ourselves. These (grants) dollars will help cover these expenses. “

Grants have also gone to smaller venues or performing arts groups. Super Diamond, a Neil Diamond tribute group at McNear’s Mystic Theater in Petaluma, received $ 273,391.

The federal grant program was plagued with technical problems at first, which Huffman’s office said have been dramatically improved. The day the app portal opened, it crashed and didn’t reopen for almost three weeks. Huffman joined a bipartisan group of more than 200 members of Congress to call on the Small Business Administration to speed up the release of the money. The SBA has now approved 9,844 grants, including 1,393 in California.

“The American Rescue Plan created the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program to provide a lifeline to struggling businesses, but it has been difficult for many to access these funds,” Huffman said. “The decision of the Small Business Administration to improve and speed up the critical funding approval process is welcome news. “

Ky J. Boyd, director of Rialto Theaters, with Theaters in Sevastopol, said his company had applied for the SVOG grants and the Economic Disaster Loan Extension “and our requests were stuck in the system for weeks. This funding is essential for my business and the local economy. The office of Congressman Huffman was able to obtain information on my loans and they were finally approved.

He also praised Sen. Chuck Schumer, Leader of the Democratic Minority, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, for leading the program, which originally started as two separate funds: Save Our Screens and Save Our Stages.

“We are a wide variety of operators – theaters, concert promoters, cinemas, museums,” Boyd said. “It must have tried to create a program for all of us, but the SBA succeeded and we are grateful to them.”

Thousands of people have applied and there are three levels of rewards. Another successful grant recipient is Tom Brand, executive director of the Healdsburg Performing Arts Center, which operates as the Raven Performing Arts Center. The center was closed during the pandemic, but should be able to reopen as early as October with an individual show.

“We will be able to put money in the bank now, and if you look at the list of recipients of these grants, there are a lot of people who are spared from this bill,” he said.

An executive at a local entertainment venue who preferred not to comment said he had not yet received the grant and was having difficulty navigating the system. The grant says it is “still pending,” they said.

The grant program was established as part of the bipartisan COVID-19 relief program adopted in December 2020.

The US bailout also put in place a solution to ensure that closed sites that received paycheck protection program loans after December 27, 2020 can also receive a subsidy for operators of small sites, provided that the grant be reduced by the amount of PPP funds provided. It was previously prohibited to apply for both grant programs.

You can contact Editors Kathleen Coates at [email protected] or 707-521-5209 and Dan Taylor at [email protected]


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