ANNAPOLIS – Maryland is awarding $ 10 million to entertainment venues across the state that struggled during the pandemic, including the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Maryland Theater and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, among others.
The money will help stabilize businesses that have had to shut down or significantly reduce capacity as COVID-19 has swept across Maryland in the past year.
As the state begins to emerge pandemic, this money will also help venues prepare for the busier fall arts season, said Nicholas Cohen, executive director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts.
“The arts season is a bit quiet in the summer. It comes back in the fall,” Cohen said. “What it does is it helps to float these sites up there, to really be like, ‘Here we are, we’re back, we’re maybe near full capacity. “”
The additional $ 10 million in state grants will go to more than 60 Maryland sites and organizations. The Delmarva Shorebirds, the Low-A branch of the Salisbury-based Baltimore Orioles, will receive $ 244,716 as part of the grant program.
Shore birds took the field in May for the first time since 2019.
Several Washington County organizations will also benefit:
- Suite 710, an event venue in Hagerstown: $ 28,162
- Washington County Theater: $ 247,039
- Potomac playmakers: $ 9,852
- Maryland Theater: $ 238,985
- Maryland Symphony Orchestra: $ 113,638
For the Potomac playmakers, the money will help maintain the group’s new home, which volunteer grantmaker Greg Berezuk said he moved into just before the pandemic shut everything down.
The building located at 17303 W. Washington St. west of Hagerstown can accommodate approximately 130 people.
“We got in there just before COVID. It’s a wonderful facility for an audience to enjoy a live performance, and we couldn’t use it, ”Berezuk said.
Fixed costs, such as the mortgage and utilities, still had to be paid even if the band was unable to put on shows, he said.
Fully volunteer playmakers have been around for almost 100 years, according to Berezuk.
He said the organization was able to “limp” through 2020 and into early 2021, with a very small audience allowed in the fall and generous donations from sponsors filling the gaps.
Berezuk said the playmakers opening of the show on July 9, “Farce of Habit”, will be the first time that the group’s new home will be open to full capacity.
Shawn Martin, who is co-owner and co-producer of Washington County Playhouse with his wife Laura Martin, said in an email Thursday that the dinner theater at 44 N. Potomac St. in Hagerstown was closed for about eight months in 2020.
Even when the business was able to reopen in November, Martin said it was limited to 50% of its capacity, including staff and actors hired.
The shutdown, capacity restrictions and lack of demand caused by COVID restrictions made it impossible to cover business expenses, he said.
“The grant money will not make us whole, but replace some of The Playhouse’s lost income,” Martin said.
The past 15 months have been “devastating” for The Playhouse, other places of entertainment and for Martin and his wife, who have also suffered personal losses.
Martin said they were supported by “a very large and loyal customer base and a loyal and trustworthy staff”.
The Playhouse, which opened in 1985, currently organizes dinner shows mainly on Friday and Saturday evenings with some Sunday mornings.
The 2022 season, which includes musicals and summer camps, will be announced soon, according to Martin.
Office 710 Managing Director Robbie Soto said the business had taken a few “decent-sized shots” as the nightclub and adjoining bowling alley were completely closed from March to the end of June 2020
Soto said all staff had to be made redundant.
When the restrictions were lifted, new staff were hired and things slowly started to return to Leitersburg Pike nightclub near the Longmeadow Mall.
Soto said that overall, the locally owned business was valued at $ 300,000, so getting about 10% of the state was welcome.
“Everything is better than nothing,” he said. “This will really help us catch up. “
Soto said Suite 710 was “one of the lucky ones” to survive the shutdown and was working on booking events and groups to help revive the decade-old entertainment industry.
“Lots of support”
The new grants of $ 10 million are in addition to the $ 30 million the state awarded earlier this year.
The Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Maryland Theater and Washington County Playhouse also received large grants during this series of awards.
Maryland Theater Executive Director Jessica Green said the new funding was higher than expected and “much appreciated.”
“Gov. Hogan and his leadership group have shown a lot of support for our industry, ”she said.
The theater, located at 21 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown, is operating at 100% capacity, even hosting 35 events in May and 12 last week, according to Green.
She said it was exciting to have people back in the theater, and that shows were selling “incredibly fast”.
While fall bookings are already increasing, summer is a notoriously slow season for performance venues like the Maryland Theater.
“People want to be on the outside,” she said, adding that the new funding would be “put to good use”.
Green said the theater is also awaiting news of his federal candidacy. Subsidy for operators of shuttered sites program, which includes more than $ 16 billion in grants for establishments that have had to close during the pandemic.
On the Lower Coast, several places and organizers benefited from the first round:
- National Folk Festival: $ 72,707
- Ocean City flagship upscale theaters: $ 484,256
- Fox Gold Coast Theater: $ 213,073
- Special event productions: $ 72,638
- Sun and Surf Cinema: $ 484,256
The grants have helped the entertainment and arts industry “cope with devastating programming and revenue losses,” said Steven Skerritt-Davis, deputy director of the Maryland State Arts Council.
“The industry has responded with characteristic creativity and innovation, quickly orienting itself to deliver secure online content, virtual art events, and in-person events and projects wherever possible,” said Skerritt-Davis.
The State Arts Council provided more than $ 12 million in grants during the pandemic with funding from the state and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Emergency funding processes encountered difficulties. US Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Joined dozens of Senate colleagues this week in a letter urging the Small Business Association to distribute federal grant money more quickly to live event venues.
“It has been nearly six months since Congress passed the Save our Stages Act, nearly two months since the program was launched for the second time and 51 days since the Small Business Administration began receiving nominations,” the letter said. “We urge you to take immediate action to ensure funds are distributed to qualified applicants.”
The letter accused bureaucratic blockages of slowing the distribution of grant money even as businesses continue to struggle.
More than places, however, Cohen, the executive director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, worries about artists and performers, many of whom lost their jobs when the pandemic caused major shutdowns.
“I think the response has been really appropriate for the sites,” he said. “I think they’re on a lot more solid ground than we thought in terms of getting into the post-pandemic, but I think the key is how the places are going to survive if the artists had to. leave the field? “
He points to the impending loss of federal unemployment benefits in the event of a pandemic, which have been a major boost for the self-employed and workers alike.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced in early June that Maryland would withdraw from federal unemployment programs on July 3, cutting the extra money two months ahead of schedule.
This means no extra $ 300 per week for people on traditional unemployment, and no help at all for non-traditional workers who received unemployment as an emergency measure during the pandemic.
If artists leave the industry because they can’t afford to survive, theaters that received emergency grants could face new challenges in finding talent after a difficult year.
“We always think of these huge places and events,” Cohen said. “Why are you coming? You come for the entertainers, the artists.”
Cohen said he hoped the state would find new ways to support artists.
The National Arts Council is also working to help artists support themselves. The organization has hosted more than 260 professional development sessions, which brought together nearly 10,000 participants, said Skerritt-Davis.
The MSAC is also developing a Freelance Artist Network employment initiative that aims to connect artists with employers, he said.
Cohen also hopes some of the strategies used during the pandemic could remain relevant and help artists reach more people when the state reopens.
“The advantage is that the sites have learned that they can increase access by thinking about things that are in person but also virtual,” Cohen said. “There is a duality here to give people both that in-person experience but also a truly robust virtual experience.”
Madeleine O’Neill covers Maryland State House and State Affairs for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @maddioneill.
Herald-Mail editor-in-chief Alexis Fitzpatrick contributed to this story.