Eighty-four Orange County arts and entertainment organizations, venues and promoters have been awarded nearly $78 million in grants through the federal Shuttered Venue Operator Grants (SVOG) program, which opened in April. Results were released late last month and early this month.

The $16.25 billion program is being run by the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide assistance to independent venues, movie theaters, promoters and nonprofit arts organizations that have been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic over the past year and a half.  

The big winners in Orange County are: the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, which is receiving $10 million; the OC Fair, which is getting $4.89 million; Transparent Productions, which produces Christian music concerts and is based in Costa Mesa, getting $4.49 million; the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach, which is receiving $4.25 million; and a business called FKOA Presents, based in Huntington Beach, which is getting $3.84 million. “FKOA” stands for “Fat Kid of America” and presents concerts such as Block Party Orange County with Ice Cube and the popular ‘80s Weekends at the Microsoft Theater in downtown L.A., according to its website.

Other grant winners include California Dinner Entertainment, which operates Pirates Dinner Adventure in Buena Park, which is getting $3.94 million; ATEI Company Inc., an Anaheim-based company that owns and operates Voices Celebrity Singers of Rock, Pop and R&B, which is receiving $3.1 million; Discovery Cube (formerly Discovery Science Center) in Santa Ana, which is getting $2.74 million; and Coach House Concerts of San Juan Capistrano, which is receiving $2.56 million.

Frias Entertainment Group, an event producer based in Santa Ana, is getting $2.54 million, and Spaghettini of Seal Beach, a restaurant and live music venue, is receiving $2.67 million.

Other notable O.C. arts organizations receiving grants include Laguna Playhouse ($1.66 million); Pacific Symphony ($1.63 million); Irvine Barclay Theater ($1.31 million); South Coast Repertory ($1.17 million); Sawdust Art Festival ($947,230); Mission San Juan Capistrano ($714,112); the Newport Beach Film Festival ($422,251); the Philharmonic Society of Orange County ($313,664); and Pacific Chorale ($176,141). Dozens of other smaller theaters, promoters and arts and entertainment venues are on the list.

“I am ecstatic,” said Richard Stein, president and CEO of Arts Orange County, the region’s nonprofit arts council. “It’s something that we advocated vigorously for last year.” 

Stein said the past year and a half of not being able to present shows has been “a catastrophic situation for arts venues and for the performing arts in particular.”

“They were the first to close and the last to open,” he said. “They were closed for over a year.”

Some Troubles with Award Disbursement

There were some hiccups in the SVOG program after it became law in March. The SBA didn’t open the application portal until April, and when it opened April 8, applicants were unable to upload documents to support their applications. The SBA shut the portal down for repairs and didn’t reopen it until April 26.

To add insult to injury, National Public Radio reported in June that a significant number of organizations and venues received news of awards, but hadn’t actually received any money months later.

However, in its latest reports, the SBA says that $8.4 billion has been disbursed in the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.

In Laguna Beach, the famed Festival of Arts — which had to shut down in 2020 for the first time since World War II — has apparently seen its $4.25 million grant come in.

“This grant has been a financial lifesaver, providing financial stability to weather the serious operational challenges caused by the loss of an entire year’s worth of revenue,” said David Perry, president of the festival’s board of directors. “We appreciate that the governmental agencies understood the difficulties presented by the pandemic and are grateful that they recognized the importance of the arts and stepped up to provide much-needed support.”

The county’s largest arts organization, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, received the maximum disbursement in the SVOG program, $10 million. It’s a stark contrast for an organization that — only 15 years ago — used to boast that it never relied on government support and strictly accepted private donations.

Casey Reitz, president of the Segerstrom Center, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Stein, the president of Arts OC, reflected on this apparent contradiction. “All I can say is I don’t necessarily think it’s a total change of philosophy,” he said. “These are extraordinary circumstances, and circumstances can dictate that private sources alone cannot get them through the crisis.”

Terry Moore, communications director for the OC Fair & Event Center, another big grant recipient, said she would work on getting specifics about the $4.89 million grant from the fair.

How Does California Stack Up?

To date, the SVOG program has awarded $9 billion in grants to more than 11,320 businesses across the nation, according to a weekly SVOG report posted by the Small Business Administration.

Successful applicants proved they were hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and were eligible to receive grants equal to 45% of their gross earned revenue, with a maximum award of $10 million.

California leads the nation in number of grants, with 1630. New York (1297 grants) edged out California with a total of $1.372 billion awarded. California has received $1.319 billion in SVOG grants.

While the SVOG program has stopped receiving new applications, it is still reviewing applications and is considering appeals of rejected applications, as well as requests for supplemental funds. The window for new appeals and reconsiderations closed last week.

Congress created the SVOG through the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act, which in late December was signed into law. An additional $1.25 billion was added to the program in March.

Richard Chang is senior editor for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at rchang@voiceofoc.org.

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