Cultural Venues’ Quest for Billions in Federal Aid Is Halted by Glitch


As the government prepared on Thursday to start taking applications for a $16 billion relief fund for music clubs, theaters and other live event businesses, thousands of desperate applicants waited eagerly to submit their paperwork right at noon, when the system was scheduled to open.

And then they waited. And waited. Nearly four hours later, the system was still not working at all, sending applicants into spasms of anxiety.

“This is an absolute disaster,” Eric Sosa, the owner of C’mon Everybody, a club in Brooklyn, tweeted at the agency.

Shortly after 4 p.m., the Small Business Administration — which runs the initiative, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program — abandoned its effort to salvage the broken system and shut down it down for the day. No applications were processed.

“It’s been the busiest year,” Robert Gomez, the primary owner of Subterranean, said in an interview. “But it’s all been about, ‘Where am I going to get funding from?’”

The application process is extensive, with detailed questions about venues’ budgets, staff and equipment.

“They want to make sure you’re not just setting up a piano in the corner of an Italian restaurant and calling yourself a music venue,” said Blayne Tucker, a lawyer for several music spaces in Texas.

“By the time we open again, October 2021 at the earliest, we will have been shuttered longer than we had been open,” he added. (The center opened in 2018, at a cost of $60 million.)

The thousands of small clubs that dot the national concert map lack access to major donors and, in many cases, have been surviving on fumes for months.

Stephen Chilton, the owner of the 300-capacity Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, said he had taken out “a few hundred thousand” in loans to keep the club afloat. In October, it reopened with a pop-up coffee shop inside, and the club hosts some events, like trivia contests and open mic shows.

“We’re losing a lot less than we were losing when we were completely closed,” Mr. Chilton said, “but it’s not making up for the lost revenue from doing events.”

The Rebel Lounge hopes that a grant will help it survive until it can bring back a full complement of concerts. And if its application is not successful?

“There is no Plan B,” Mr. Chilton said.



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