Arts and culture venues forced to close during the pandemic are keeping close watch on one budget item in the massive, $900 billion federal relief bill passed by Congress. Tucked into the over 5,000-page bill is the section “grants for shuttered venue operators” that have lost at least 25% of their revenue.

“It’s going to make all the difference in the world,” said Donna Briggs, president and CEO of the Britt Music and Arts Festival in Jacksonville. “Just to give you an example, in 2019 we had over $2 million in ticket sales. In 2020 we had zero.”

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The Britt Festival’s music season was cancelled last April. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland began cancelling performances in March. The festival lobbied for federal support and plans to apply for relief funds.

“It was crucial that we receive this kind of support,” said Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Nataki Garrett.

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The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 2020. Peter and the Starcatche

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival put on "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the start of 2020, before COVID-19 forced the Ashland production company to shut down. Now OSF is looking for financial assistance to get through the prolonged closure.

Jenny Graham.

“What this money allows us to do is pay our artists, as well as our administrators who support the art-making. We don’t have to choose now,” she said.

The grants can be used for payroll, independent contractors, rent and maintenance costs, among other things. They’ll be dispersed through the Small Business Administration. Funds are available to music venues, movie theaters, museums and performing arts organizations.

The criteria for the grants and funding amounts are being worked out, but the legislation includes priorities for which venues can apply for funding during the first 28 days of the grant opening.

The first priority group during the initial 14 days of the grant program will be venues that lost 90% or more of their income due to the pandemic. The second priority group or the following 14 days will be venues that lost 70% of their income.

The federal coronavirus relief bill was passed by Congress on Dec. 21. It awaits the signature of President Donald Trump to become law.

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