State is pushed to distribute funds to formerly shuttered venues

Limitations remain in administering federal funds with tight eligibility requirements

Courtesy photo of The Music Hall in Portsmouth.

As federal aid trickles out, there is a push to get more help from the state for formerly shuttered venues.

As of July 19, some 50 venues have received nearly $23 million from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG), ranging from $2.7 million to the entity that runs the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom to just $7,000 to theater KAPOW in Manchester. (For the latest list, scroll to the bottom of the article.)

But some venues like Tupelo Music Hall in Derry have yet to make the list, much to the frustration of Scott Hayward, who called the Small Business Administration roll out of the program, which was passed as a stimulus bill shortly after Christmas and didn’t start accepting applications until April 23, “a complete and utter disaster. We haven’t received a message back.”

Ginnie Lupi, director of the NH State Council of the Arts, was a little more charitable.

“It’s been a long haul,” she said. “But they are trying to get their act together. It’s always hard, the first time you set up a new program.”

Nationally, the agency has awarded nearly 9,000 grants, more than half of the 15,000 that applied. But even some of those haven’t got their money yet, since only $5.6 billion of the $6.8 billion of those grant awards have been disbursed.

So far, the SBA has been granting awards to about 95% of those that applied, but some venues are ineligible for the funding, and that’s where the state has stepped in, in several ways. First, it set up its own shuttered venue program the Live Venue Relief Program. That gave out $12 million to 43 venues in the fall.

On June 11, the state added the Live Venue Assistance Program, which will provide up to 75% of their operating expenses, or $750,000, whichever is lower. But that program is only available to those that have been excluded from SVOG and already got money from the state’s previous program. Very few venders – mostly large ones – fit that criteria, and on Thursday, Governor Sununu said that $2.5 million were awarded to six major vendors. At deadline Governor Office for Relief and Recovery (GOFERR) had not responded to who would receive the funds, but observers suggested that they would be venues that are too large to qualify for SVOG, such as the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion, the Fisher Cats Stadium and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

But Lupi said that leaves out smaller venues that may have not received state funding the first time around.

Last session however, the Legislature set up yet another program, Save Our Granite Stages Fund. Originally it was proposed as a separate bill sponsored by State Sen Becky Whitley, D-Concord, but it got incorporated in HB2, the trailer bill to the budget, which passed on June 23.   The budget writers however did not attach any money to it, instead banking on getting some of the nearly $1 billion in funds coming to the state though the American Rescue Plan Act.

That legislation would also exclude venues that got help from SVOG, but the venues didn’t necessarily have to be funded by the state already. Some may have not gotten it together to apply for either program. Or some may not be administratively eligible – for instance, the Stockbridge Theatre is part of Pinkerton Academy or the Audi is owned by the City of Concord.

Since the State Council of the Arts would be administering this program, Lupi is trying to assess the need, but already she said she expects that there will be enough groups that they could use at least a total $1 million. The decision however rests with the governor and the legislative fiscal committee. Already there have been several letters written to both nudging them to fund it.

“We have been fortunate to receive aid. We remain in desperate need of additional funds,” wrote Ethan Paulini, who is the producing artistic director of the Weathervane Theater in Whitefield.

“There are a number of performing arts venues in New Hampshire that did not qualify for the SVOG program, many being smaller venues or those with unique organizational structures,” wrote Trip Anderson, the board chair of arts4nh, an arts advocacy group. “The combination of extreme loses during the Covid-19 pandemic and extensive re-opening costs are putting these venues at risk.”

To further complicate things, Lupi will also be administrating a separate stream of American Rescue Plan funds: nearly $760,000 though the National Endowment for the Arts. This money would just go to nonprofits.

Any help is needed Lupi said. While the public is starting to be willing to go back to the theater again, “you just can’t flip a switch.” Venues have supply chain issues too. Touring groups need to be touring. Local groups have to organize and rehearse. And like all other businesses these days, there are staffing issues, both with paid employees and volunteers.

“People are coming back. They are hungry for live performances, and we really want to give it to them,” she said. “We can use all the help we can get.”

The 2021 New Hampshire Legislative Session has come to an end. Here are a list of bills passed, and some signed into law by the governor, that would impact business.

Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Recipients as of July 19, 2021

SVOG Amount SVOG Grantee City
$2.684 million Coastal Concerts LLC Hampton
$2.660 million Huse Road Entertainment, LLC Manchester
$1.835 million Palace Theatre Trust Manchester
$1.779 million Coliseum Avenue Entertainment, LLC Manchester
$1.501 million Big League Entertainment, Incorporated Manchester
$1.465 million Friends of The Music Hall Portsmouth
$1.451 million Capitol Center for the Arts Concord
$1.408 million Epping Cinemas, LLC Londonderry
$714,402 Flying Monkey, Inc. Ashland
$668,040 Small City Cinema, LLC Keene
$558,992 Seacoast Repertory Theatre Portsmouth
$501,752 Entertainment Cinemas Lebanon Lebanon
$490,578 Stone Wood Cinema LLC Barrington
$482,733 Union Pub Co LLC Portsmouth
$463,480 The Colonial Theatre Group, Inc. Keene
$388,400 Hanover Improvement Society Hanover
$374,254 Red River Theatres, Inc. Concord
$365,682 Lebanon Opera House Improvement Corporation Lebanon
$345,322 New London Barn Playhouse, Inc. New London
$279,674 Barnzs LLC Meredith
$259,548 3S Contemporary Arts Space, Inc. Portsmouth
$196,857 Barnzs Lincoln Cinema LLC Lincoln
$183,850 Prinzano Enterprises, LLC Meredith
$161,532 The Winnipesaukee Playhouse Meredith
$144,371 Rialto Theatre LLP Lancaster
$131,685 Peterborough Players, Inc. Peterborough
$115,369 Chosen Vale, Inc., dba Enfield Shaker Museum Enfield
$109,449 Prescott Park Arts Festival Portsmouth
$106,036 Majestic Theatre Manchester
$95,877 The Connected Group, LLC Bedford
$93,916 Weathervane Theatre Players, Inc Whitefield
$91,784 Bethlehem Redevelopment Association  Bethlehem
$85,776 Equinox MAF, LLC Manchester
$73,558 Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music Sullivan
$65,802 Opera North Lebanon
$63,031 M&D Productions, LLC North Conway

Perseverance Productions, L.L.C.

$60,380 Hatbox Theatre LLC Bradford
$57,171 Claremont Opera House, Inc Claremont
$56,860 Revels North, Inc. Sunapee
$42,951 The Strand Ballroom Corp Greenland
$41,141 Franklin Opera House, Inc. Franklin
$39,865 New Hampshire Theatre Project Portsmouth
$39,722 Bright and Lyon LLC Exeter
$33,278 RB Productions Concord
$30,228 Newport Opera House Association Newport
$29,718 Greater Derry Arts Council Derry
$26,500 KCP, LLC Hanover
$8,778 Raylynmor Opera Jaffrey
$7,188 theatre KAPOW Manchester
Total: $22.934 million
Categories: Government, Nonprofits