With Trump’s signature, $15 billion in relief for entertainment and the arts becomes a reality. How will it impact Fresno?

When news broke last week that the federal stimulus bill contains $15 billion (yes, with a B) in Covid-relief funds specifically for the entertainment industry and the arts, I danced a little internal jig. It never occurred to me that President Trump would threaten to veto it.

Pictured above: A scene from ‘Elf: The Musical.’ Photo: Good Company Players

But he did, which put a pause on my celebration. (His delay in signing the bill also meant millions of people didn’t get their supplemented unemployment payments on time.) Up until Sunday night, when he relented and signed the overall $900 billion measure, lots of things were up in the air, including whether the government would shut down.

Now it appears that we’re ready to look at the next steps in terms of what is in the bill for the arts. All this is still tentative, with ground rules, eligibility requirements and disbursement protocols still to come. I checked in briefly with some of Fresno’s arts leaders.

The Fresno Philharmonic’s Stephen Wilson is excited, both about the $15 billion grant program targeted to performing arts (Save Our Stages) and another $280 billion for another round of PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) funding. “We are awaiting further details to see if the Fresno Philharmonic will be eligible for one of these programs,” Wilson said.

Related story: Fresno-area groups struggle with uncertainty and financial hardships, but the will to survive is strong

For Dan Pessano of Good Company Players, the most important thing is the extension of unemployment insurance for his employees, followed closely by the chance for another round of PPP.


“As far as the arts-help part of it, when I think of the billions in lost revenue, then any help is welcome,” Pessano says.

The New York Times has a good initial roundup on what’s in the stimulus bill for the arts:

The bill allows independent entertainment businesses, like music venues and movie theaters, along with other cultural entities, to apply for grants from the Small Business Administration to support six months of payments to employees and for costs including rent, utilities and maintenance. Applicants must have lost at least 25 percent of their revenue to qualify, and those that have lost more than 90 percent will be able to apply first, within the first two weeks after the bill becomes law.

Grants will be capped at $10 million. Publicly traded companies and other large businesses are not eligible.

Variety magazine did an interview a week ago with Sen. Amy Klochubar (D-MN.), who introduced the Save Our Stages act in the Senate with her colleague John Cornyn (R-TX.), that gets into a lot of the details. Initially the act was $10 billion and was aimed at helping independent music venues; the focus was expanded with an additional $5 billion. Says Klochubar:

What happened was, we got some friends and partners [added] as part of this bill, and what usually happens [in that case] is the original people get screwed, because you lose money. But we said, “Okay, we agree that movie theaters and museums and zoos need help, but only if we increase the money.”

The $10 billion for music venues and $5 billion for the others is mixed together now, but the ratio will remain about the same, Klochubar says. The original coalition agreed to this, so long as the money was added.

Groups will have to decide whether to apply for a regular PPP loan or for the targeted “Save Our Stages” funding, so there will be a lot of discussions between accountants and executive directors in the coming days. “Now remember, the venues that are getting this can’t also apply for PPP — they can choose, but I think they’re going to choose the grants that are tailor-made for them,” Klochubar says.

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At first glance — and, remember, this is preliminary — it seems as if the “Save Our Stages” funding is a perfect option for Good Company Players. Pessano has his doubts there will be enough money to go around since it might get gobbled up by major organizations and venues. “The big players will have the inside track, as they should, since I can’t see how having Broadway and touring closed isn’t similarly fatal to the provinces,” he says.

But any help is welcome and he’ll happily apply. And to hear Klochubar describe it, the act is designed with independent institutions such as Good Company in mind.

As for the Fresno Philharmonic and the Fresno Art Museum, there will be a lot of number-crunching going on in the coming days. But, at least it’s the good kind of crunching — trying to figure out the best program to apply for.

Michele Ellis Pracy, executive director of the museum, has a lot of experience keeping up with pending legislation. (She works with CNN playing in the background so she won’t miss the latest news updates.) She and fellow museum directors across the country have learned to navigate these past pandemic months through an informational thicket of government programs to ensure their institutions remain afloat, and keeping watch on the crap shoot that can be Congress is no different.

That experience will come in handy.

Overall, it’s been a promising few weeks for the cultural-arts community in terms of funding: the chance that Measure P will be upheld; the disbursement of CARE funds to artists and institutions by the Fresno Arts Council; and now a presidential signature. It won’t be enough to make up for the financial devastation of the epidemic, but it’s a welcome sign that society values the arts enough to make the effort.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (1)

  • Jackie Ryle

    Thank you, Donald. I really appreciate keeping up through your research and information. This news is encouraging


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