For months, theatre owners have been waiting for the opportunity to apply for government financial assistance through the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant program. SVOG grants were authorized as part of the second major COVID-19 relief act signed into law last December in the waning days of the Trump administration. The amount of the aid available through this program is significant, up to 45% of the gross revenue earned by a venue during 2019, prior to the onset of the pandemic. These funds will be essential to the survival of independent theatres, many having experienced a year-over-year revenue decline in 2020 of 75% or more.
However, the Small Business Administration which has the responsibility to administer the program has been slow to provide details on the application process. In March, the SBA announced that applications would be accepted beginning on April 8th at 12:00 noon ET but when that time came last Thursday, the website where applications would be accepted was off-line, leaving applicants in the dark as to the cause. As it turns out, the site was experiencing “system problems” despite having passed pre-launch testing that showed that it would be ready. Thursday night, the SBA sent out a statement acknowledging these issues and saying that its site would remain closed until further notice, allowing its technical teams to work through the issues. It’s worth pointing out that SVOG grant applications are processed on a first come first serve basis, which makes applicants that much more intent on being first in line to submit their applications. In the end, funds from the program will most likely get into the hands of needy theatre operators, and the current frustration with the process will fade. Exhibitors can follow the latest updates on the SBA website.
See also: Cultural Venues’ Quest for Billions in Federal Aid Is Halted by Glitch (NY Times)