Cultural institutions still waiting for $16 billion in federal aid
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Cultural institutions still waiting for $16 billion in federal aid
Digital marquees on theaters along West 46th Street acknowledge Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for his help in securing federal aid for venues that were forced to close during the coronavirus pandemic, in New York, May 21, 2021. More than 12,000 live performance venues and cultural institutions have applied for help from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, which has been marred by delays. Officials now say the highest-priority applicants could learn next week if they have been approved for aid. Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

by Julia Jacobs and Stacy Cowley

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Five months after Congress approved a $16 billion federal aid program to help live-performance venues and cultural institutions survive the pandemic, more than 12,000 applicants have sought help but no money has been disbursed yet.

But some venue owners, theater producers and museum officials — eager, and in cases desperate, for financial help after more than a year of steep pandemic losses — could soon learn if help is on the way. The Small Business Administration, which runs the program, said in a statement Friday that the highest-priority applicants — those that lost 90% of their revenue compared with the prior year — are tentatively scheduled to receive notices about the fate of their applications beginning next week.

But some business owners are wary of the promise after weeks of delay and confusion over the initiative, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, which many had cheered as a lifeline. Each day, applicants vent their frustrations on an online forum, regularly polling one another on whether any applications have yet been officially approved or rejected.

“They’re hanging on by a thread right now,” said Meredith Lynsey Schade, a theater producer and nonprofit leader who helps answer questions from grant applicants on the forum. “They’re on life support, and every day they’re told, ‘Just a little bit longer.’”

At a news conference on Friday in Times Square, not far from the TKTS booth that sells discounted Broadway tickets, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and Broadway industry leaders celebrated the program as a savior for the hard-hit performing arts sector.

“Right now, $16 billion is on the way to the theater district, our theater industry, our live venues and our cultural institutions in New York and across the country,” Schumer said. He did not address the delays that have hampered the application process or the frustrations of those awaiting relief.

Now that more theaters, concert halls and nightclubs are getting the green light to reopen across the country, new expenses are starting to mount, even as organizations try to figure out how to handle the losses of the past year.

Forty Broadway shows are expected to open during the 2021-22 season, Schumer said at the news conference, some of them as early as September. In recent days, tickets have gone on sale for 19 shows, he said.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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