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Arts & Entertainment

Federal Grant Program Promised to Help Live Venues, but Aid Only Went to One in Texas

Despite a sizable pool for relief funds, the feds have been slow to send out money to venues and cultural art institutions.
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The Bomb Factory. (Photo by James Coreas) James Coreas

The federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program has not actually steered much money to entertainment venues, performers, or cultural art institutions as it was intended to. According to a report published last week by the Small Business Administration, the $16.2 billion grant program has provided grant money to just one Texas venue despite it being hailed as a lifeline for concert halls, performers, and cultural institutions.

Owners of live music venues, theaters, and related businesses became eligible to apply for the program on April 24, when the application portal launched in Texas. The website crashed within hours, and applicants have reported confusion and long lines. The money is still awaiting distribution as the SBA approves applications.

If approved, applicants could receive up to 45 percent of their annual revenue, with a maximum amount of $10 million. The government set aside $2 billion of the total $16.2 billion stimulus for small businesses with 50 employees or fewer. Those haven’t been flowing out either.

According to the SBA’s report, the program received 13, 783 applications requesting $11.4 billion in federal aid. Out of the 13,783 applications, only 50 applicants have been awarded grants so far. The average grant was $1.08 million.

Now, what did that mean for Texas? Not much. The SBA awarded just $6.1 million to one venue in the whole state. The SBA did not disclose the grant recipient in its report.

According to the report, the federal agency is currently reviewing requests from 3,471 applicants.

Cultural venues will also get some help from the state next year. The Texas Legislature passed a law this session that would allow entertainment venues to apply for up to $100,000 in annual tax rebates. Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 609 into law about two weeks ago. The legislation creates a music incubator program under the state’s Music, Film, Television, and Multimedia Office.

The program would provide financial aid for venues with a capacity of 3,000 people or less. Festivals are eligible for aid if they are held in a county with a population of 100,000 people or less. Music venues and festivals must be at least two years old are eligible to apply.

Funding for the program would be drawn from alcohol and liquor sales at venues. The state office begins accepting applications next year. This is the second attempt in recent years at legislation to support the state’s entertainment industry. Similar legislation was killed by Republicans in the state Senate in 2019. Obviously, the pandemic changed the math.

At the federal level, the Small Business Administration has so far provided only minimal support to the state’s music and entertainment businesses. The legislature’s bill may wind up being the best path for many venues that are only now beginning to host performances after a year spent shuttered.

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