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Orange County Supervisors are steering $5 million in relief to arts-related nonprofits and small businesses, just after estimates arose that the O.C. arts community suffered more than $121 million in losses over the pandemic.

The relief is divided evenly among each district, giving board members the discretion of how the $1 million is allocated in each respective district, according to county public information manager Molly Nichelson. 


Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Youth Media program, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Digital Editor Sonya Quick at squick@voiceofoc.org.


The relief, approved April 28, was just a portion of a larger plan, with an additional $25 million from the American Rescue Plan Act designated for small businesses, which did not pass in its entirety and stirred up debate between board members. 

Arts Orange County president and CEO Richard Stein advocated for the approval of the arts relief at the meeting in April and emphasized immense losses in the arts, including roughly 2,700 jobs. 

ArtsOC also estimated in a media release that Orange County arts will not return to pre-pandemic revenue numbers until July 2022 at the earliest.

“This will help greatly with the resilience of our arts community as they return to work to serve our community, to infuse our economy, and to enliven and enrich our lives,” Stein said in the meeting.

How Much Relief?

However, some arts nonprofits throughout the county are in the dark about when and how much relief they will receive. 

Both the directors from Anaheim Ballet and the Heritage Museum of Orange County said their nonprofits were not informed about how this relief will impact their organization specifically. Normally, most relief grants require an application process and an evaluation of annual gross income, according to Jamie Hiber, the director of the Heritage Museum. 

“Meaning, organizations with larger figures – income and expenses – will receive more than smaller organizations like us,” she said.

The Heritage Museum, located in Santa Ana, reopened this week after being closed since early 2020, and has not had any revenue stream during this time.

“Our losses would have been catastrophic without these relief grants,” she said, “and now we’ve personally seen an uptick in revenue as we are one of the fortunate ones reopening.”

That being said, the Heritage Museum doesn’t expect to recuperate its losses for another five years. 

‘The Impact Has Been Devastating’

Regardless of the type of art-related business or nonprofit, COVID-19 has arguably hit the arts harder than many other industries.

“Arts organizations were the first businesses to close and will be the last to re-open due to their social gathering nature,” Stein said.

The Newport Beach Film Festival, for instance, usually attracts more than 50,000 attendees annually, but lost over 90% of its revenue in 2020. The film fest held a modified, virtual festival in October 2020, but it was nothing compared to hosting thousands of people and organizations live.

“The impact has been devastating,” said NBFF co-founder Todd Quartararo.

This arts relief is not the only funding that organizations and businesses have received from the county, as ArtsOC published a COVID-19 response report in December 2020 detailing its advocacy for relief. At that time, the organization had a part in distributing $2.7 million in relief, $1.9 million of that from CARES funds.

However, now, some say that an additional $5 million is a small number compared to the hundreds of millions lost.

“While I find it hard to believe that $5 million will suffice given the loss, it is certainly helpful. We are, of course, appreciative,” said Larry Rosenberg, the director of the Anaheim Ballet.

Allocation Decisions

Some organizations, including the Anaheim Ballet, are starting to think about what this relief means for itself specifically.

“If we were to allocate the funds, we would apportion it equally between the three areas of Anaheim Ballet: STEP-UP! (outreach), company and school,” Rosenberg said. 

Orange County’s Community Resources division is helping each district with distribution. According to Mechelle Haines, a OCCR public information officer, the fourth board district has moved forward with distribution, while the other districts are still in the process of planning. 

The fourth county district, which consists of Anaheim, Brea, La Habra, Fullerton, Buena Park and Placentia, is beginning to distribute its funds to arts-related nonprofits and businesses on a first-come, first-served basis. 

The district will provide $5,000 grants that arts-related businesses and nonprofits can apply for starting on May 28. The link to the application will be made available at a later date, according to Haines. 

Arts and culture senior editor Richard Chang contributed to this report. 

Vivienne Ayres is a part of Voice of OC’s youth media program and a Chapman University student majoring in broadcast journalism and documentary. She grew up in Nashville, Tennessee.

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