As music venues across the country face potential closures due to the lack of live concerts and events during the ongoing health crisis, the Oregon state legislature has approved the distribution of $50M in federal relief funds to companies and organizations in the arts and entertainment space. The funds will be culled from the estimated $2.4B received by the state from the federal government via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) earlier this year.
According to the official document from the July 14th Emergency Board meeting, “Funding of $50,000,000 from the state’s distribution of CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) monies is requested to support music, culture, and community venues and organizations that have been closed or have cancelled or postponed public cultural or community programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Governor’s Executive Orders, and to supplement support to a community college. The purpose of these funds is to preserve these institutions and their associated community benefits through the pandemic.”
Per The Oregonian, Oregon state legislators voted on Tuesday to direct “$24 million to individual organizations including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Oregon Symphony, as well as several dozen local venues.” An additional $23 million will be split between “county coalitions who can distribute funds to other local arts and culture organizations in need. … The biggest slices of the pie went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which received $4.7 million, and Metro, which got $4.1 million. Funds also went to the Oregon Symphony, Portland Opera, Portland Center Stage, Oregon Ballet Theater, Pendleton Round-Up and the Oregon Coast Community College.” Close to 20% of the $50 million will also be distributed to “78 arts venues around the state, from Revolution Hall in Portland to the Elgin Opera House in northeast Oregon.”
Noted Dana Whitelaw, the executive director of Bend’s High Desert Museum, which received $700k in funds from the bill, “This is a really welcome gift … this starts to cover a significant portion of [the estimated $1.5 million in lost revenue for the museum through the end of the year].”
While the cash injection is welcome news for many in the Oregon entertainment industry, the decision by the state legislature did not come without dissent, particularly regarding the disproportionate number of grants being given to organizations and venues in the Portland area as opposed to the rest of the state.
“I don’t think this is done equitably by any stretch of the imagination,” Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, who offered the lone “no” vote, said during the debate over the relief funds. “It’s just a real snub in the nose to everyone else in the state.” The bill’s backers, however, were quick to point out that the funds will be “divvied up on a per-capita basis, giving rural communities just as much as urban areas.”
Senator Betsy Johnson also critiqued the portion of the funds approved to go directly to arts venues on the grounds that more robust confirmation of reported monthly operating costs during the pandemic was needed. She also asked for a more robust certification of the figures that venues reported as their monthly operating costs during the pandemic.
“However that’s distributed, that’s a win for arts and culture in Oregon, it’s a testament to the state for putting arts and culture at a high priority,” the High Desert Museum director told The Oregonian, “It is reassuring to know that the state values what we do and wants to see us through this.”
This decision in Oregon comes as independent venues and promoters continue to band together to request federal aid via the recently formed National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). In a recent interview with NOLA.com, Galactic bassist/Tipitina’s co-owner Robert Mercurio explained the “heartbreaking and terrifying” future of the beloved New Orleans venue if live shows remain on hold through the end of the year. Last week, a survey conducted by the University of Houston revealed up to 90 percent of venues in Austin, TX could also close forever if they’re not reopened for business by the fall months. Unlike countries including Germany and the U.K., the United States federal government has yet to introduce any economic relief plan to help stimulate America’s live events industry.
You can read a full breakdown of the grants and beneficiaries included in the $50M relief lifeline for arts organizations in Oregon here.