Entertainment venues across New Jersey still waiting for federal COVID-19 grant funds
Live theaters, movie theaters, museums and certain other venues that were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic say that they are still waiting to receive federal grants that were promised by the government.
“Obviously because of economic challenges, we’ve had the good fortune of having 10 to 15 volunteers,” says New Jersey Repertory Company Executive Director Gabor Barabas.
Barabas says that the volunteers helped to renovate the building in Long Branch. He says that he is also thankful for the donors who made it possible to purchase new seats and flooring.
But the nonprofit theater is hoping that a $150,000 federal grant comes through soon. The grants will help bring back staff and launch the next shows.
“Three employees in one year and the beginning, just the beginning – the seed of the new musical,” Barabas says.
New Jersey Repertory is among more than 14,000 entertainment venues in the United States that applied for a Shuttered Venue Operators Grant – a program signed into law last December, but has been plagued by delays.
“It’s been clunky. It’s been frustrating,” says Basie Center for the Arts CEO Adam Philipson.
The Red Bank nonprofit is also waiting for an anticipated $2 million or $3 million grant. It will partially cover the losses incurred during the government-ordered shutdown and capacity limits.
“You have the staffing that has to happen now, training that has to happen now, because a lot of it will be new staff,” Philipson says.
The Small Business Administration, which administers the $16 billion grant program, says a team is verifying the cumbersome applications. But the administration says, "...the current pace of awards is not reflective of the high standards that we strive to meet. We are committed to doing everything we can to improve funding speed, get Americans the relief they desperately need and open our venues again."
Many venues have a lot of work to do before they can welcome a full audience, including ventilation improvements and rehiring staff.
Grants have been awarded for just a few hundred venues, according to the SBA, leaving thousands waiting on the funds. Slightly more than a dozen applicants in New Jersey have been awarded grants from the program.