$36M will flow into Maine to prop up arts venues and museums that closed for pandemic

·4 min read

Jul. 27—About $36 million in federal funds will flow into Maine to help performance venues and museums reopen after they were forced to close during the coronavirus pandemic.

The money is coming to the state through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, a $16 billion relief program for arts organizations that Congress approved in two parts, in December 2020 and March of this year. Suddenly deprived of revenue during the pandemic, some venues were unable to survive, including Port City Music Hall in Portland, which closed permanently a year ago.

Waterfront Concerts, which runs outdoor concert series on the Bangor waterfront and in Westbrook, will receive the largest grant award in the state — $9.76 million — to make up for lost revenue. The smallest grant, $5,300, will go to Creative Learning and Performance Inc. in Belfast.

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced awards from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program earlier this month, but organizations have not yet received the funds.

Applicants could apply for awards worth up to 45 percent of their gross earned revenue in 2019 minus any money received through the Paycheck Protection Program. The maximum grant award is $10 million, and the funds can cover costs the venue incurs through Dec. 31.

The awards are going to 75 different Maine venues that were forced to close their doors due to the restrictions put in place by Gov. Janet Mills to slow the spread of COVID-19. Many organizations scaled back the number of shows offered and the scope of performances so that fewer people were required to produce them. Some venues have yet to reopen.

Waterfront Concerts founder Alex Gray said Monday that he is not solidifying plans for spending the grant until he receives it and guidelines for spending the money stop changing.

"The latest guidelines were version 10 and we applied for the grant in April," he said. "Our core function now is to build our team back up."

The anxiously awaited program had major glitches when it was rolled out in April, and the government stopped taking applications after about four hours. It resumed taking applications weeks later.

The Small Business Administration's list of Maine award recipients includes a major error, listing a $10 million award — the maximum, and largest amount in Maine — for Husson University, which operates the 490-seat Gracie Theatre on its Bangor campus.

However, Husson applied for only $42,000 and is working with the Small Business Administration to correct the error, said Husson spokesperson Eric Gordon.

A Small Business Administration spokesperson on Monday said the agency is "looking into this matter" but wouldn't comment on individual award recipients.

Other venues slated to receive more than $1 million include the State Theatre in Portland, which produces shows at Thompson's Point. It was awarded nearly $4.6 million while the Ogunquit Playhouse Foundation and CAMREP Inc., the firm that operates the movie theater in Orono, are to receive $3.5 million and nearly $2 million, respectively.

The Maine State Music Theater in Brunswick was awarded $1.7 million. It was forced to shorten its summer season and will perform two productions in Westbrook rather than at its usual home in the Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus.

In Bangor, the city expects to receive more than $1.5 million to pay a portion of the debt service on the Cross Insurance Center that was shuttered for 16 months. The arena reopened last week with a bull-riding competition. Acceptance of the award was on Monday evening's City Council agenda.

Other grants to organizations in Greater Bangor include nearly $500,000 for the Penobscot Theatre Company; about $476,000 for the Collins Center for the Arts on the University of Maine's campus in Orono; $13,000 for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra; $117,000 for the Maine Discovery Museum in downtown Bangor; and $69,000 for Launchpad, which runs the Bangor Arts Exchange in downtown Bangor with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.

Brian Hinrichs, the orchestra's executive director, said the money will keep the symphony from operating at a deficit in the upcoming season.

"The grant is allowing us to return our operations to near full capacity even though audience behavior remains unpredictable," he said. "While significant unknowns remain in our funding equation going forward, this grant gives us the security to move forward with our ambitious plans for the 2021-22 season."

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