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The Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina, which is an example of the kind of venue that would qualify for the SVO grants now being made available to performance spaces Credit: Image by and courtesy Megan Leypoldt

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On December 27, 2020, a congressional stimulus bill that was passed and signed into law by then President Trump had several provisions to help United States residents through the COVID-19 crisis. Among these are additional stimulus payments, enhanced and extended Federal unemployment benefits, additional Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) money, simplified PPP forgiveness rules, an extension of the temporary charitable contribution deduction for taxpayers who take the standard deduction, and a doubling of the business meals deduction from 50% deductible to 100% deductible for the years 2021 and 2022 so long as the meal is purchased from a restaurant. (Takeout meals are okay.) These provisions should provide some help to all of us as we continue to weather the economic crisis.

But one item in the bill will specifically help people in the arts. Congress earmarked $15 billion in grants for arts venue operators whose income decreased due to the pandemic crisis. The money is meant to help these organizations weather the rest of the crisis, with priority given to the hardest-hit venues, and $2 Billion set aside for smaller, so called, “main street” venues. The funding is targeted primarily towards live venue operators, movie theaters, talent representatives, and live performing arts organizations. Museums (including zoos and aquariums) are eligible with some additional restrictions.

So, what do these grants look like? The Shuttered Venue Operators (SVO) Grant money, which will be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), provides grants of up to 45% of the organizations’ gross earned revenue (or $10 million, whichever is less). For entities in operation after January 1, 2019, the amount will be based on 6 months of average revenue, or $10 million, whichever is less. $2 billion of the funding is set aside exclusively for organizations with fewer than 50 full-time employees. Grants will not be given to any organization that received a Paycheck Protection loan (PPP) after December 27, 2020, and you may not apply for both an SVO Grant and a PPP loan at the same time.

What does gross earned revenue mean? Gross earned revenue means money received from sales of goods and services like merchandise, admission tickets, contracted presentation income, advertising sales, food and beverage, and long- and short-term rentals for event hosting. Donations, corporate sponsorships, individual gifts, and foundation grants do not count as this revenue.

The SVO grant funds can be used more flexibly than either PPP loan money or Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) money. Allowed uses cover payroll; payments to independent contractors; rent; utilities; scheduled mortgage payments; scheduled debt payments; insurance; administrative costs; worker protection costs; state and local taxes; operating leases in effect before February 15, 2020; ordinary and necessary business expenses including maintenance, and advertising; production transportation; and capital expenditures related to producing a theatrical or live performing arts production.

All grantees will need to keep documents proving their eligibility and proper use of funds for three years, and all employment records for four years.

Are there any restrictions? Yes. Venues are only eligible for SVO Grants if they have a defined performance space and audience space. Museums and movie theaters specifically must also have fixed seating: There is no allowance for them to have modular, temporary, or removable seating. The fixed seating requirement does not apply to other types of venues. Sales of products or services and live performances may not be of a “prurient sexual nature,” and the venue may not have received more than 10% of its 2019 revenue from the federal government.

How should organizations get ready to apply? The Small Business Administration is still working on the application platform, and applications are not yet being accepted. However, in the meantime, the SBA encourages applicants to do the following:

Register for a DUNS number so you can then register in the System for Award Management (SAM.gov). Also, gather documents that demonstrate your number of employees and monthly revenues so you can calculate the average number of qualifying employees you had over the prior 12 months. Lastly, determine the extent of gross earned revenue loss you experienced between 2019 and 2020. This and additional information such as floor plans, contract copies and other evidence will be needed to apply for an SVOG.

Perhaps the most important piece of the grant legislation is that priority is given to venues whose revenue is down 90%. This group will be allowed to apply for the grants first. After a two-week window, grant applications will open to venues whose revenue is down 70%, and after another two-week window, venues whose revenue is down at least 25% will be allowed to apply. Applicants in the first and second priority groups will be allowed to apply for a second grant if money is still available.

More information on the #saveourstages SVO Grants is available at the SBA website.

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Hannah Cole

Hannah Cole is an artist, speaker, and tax professional empowering...