It wasn’t easy to get, but over $100 million in federal aid has been received by independent players in Hawaii’s arts and entertainment industry stung by COVID-19 impacts.
The U.S. Small Business Administration touted a major national milestone Tuesday for its Shuttered Venue Operators Grants program after a troubled start in April, saying that so far $7.5 billion in grant money aimed at small, independent arts and entertainment industry operators has flowed to over 10,000 nationwide recipients from an available $16 billion.
In Hawaii, 68 grants totaling $101 million have gone to businesses, organizations and government entities that include performing arts organizations, museums, theater operators and event producers, according to SBA data.
The biggest grants in Hawaii were for the program’s maximum $10 million and went to the Polynesian Cultural Center and Dream Weekend LLP, a Manoa-based entertainment production company that has organized events including a 2019 concert at Aloha Stadium featuring Usher, Marshmello, Migos and Ice Cube.
Another 22 Hawaii entities received between $1 million and $9 million, including tour and attractions company Robert’s Hawaii, the operator of Paradise Cove Luau, Polynesian entertainment producer Tihati Productions, Wallace Theaters Management Corp., the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Maui Arts & Cultural Center and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
The smallest grant was for $2,075 and went to the Kona Harp Ensemble.
Government entities that received grants included the City and County of Honolulu, which received $3 million related to its operation of Neal S. Blaisdell Center, and the University of Hawaii-run Waikiki Aquarium, which received $1.3 million.
Jonathan “Jonny” Mack, a partner in Dream Weekend and a couple of other local arts and entertainment businesses that received grant proceeds, said the program has been crucial for many event producers that couldn’t get much relief from the federal Paycheck Protection Program because they rely heavily on independent contractors.
“I think Hawaii achieved a lot of help from this grant,” he said.
David Johnston, artistic director of the Maui Academy of Performing Arts, said the grant program is making a difference in the organization’s long-term survival. “It’s been a godsend,” he said.
The Wailuku-based nonprofit, which produces theatrical shows and provides dance and drama classes, ceased most operations in August and furloughed about 32 of its 38 paid staff after trying an online model that didn’t draw enough interest.
Although the academy received two forgivable federal PPP loans since the coronavirus pandemic took hold early in 2020, the Shuttered Venue Operators grant program offered to provide 45% of 2019 earned revenue for independent arts and entertainment industry operators.
Carolyn King Wright, the academy’s executive director, said the $643,790 grant was five times bigger than the larger of the two forgivable PPP loans received.
“It’s really going to help our industry move out of this pandemic-induced downtime and bring the arts back to people,” she said.
King Wright, however, said obtaining the grant was tough in part because of repeatedly revised federal guidance.
“It was a challenge,” she said, adding that sharing information with two other Maui arts organizations helped, as did support from the National Independent Venue Association.
The Shuttered Venue Operators grant program was established in December by the federal government’s Economic Aid to Hard Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act with a $15 billion appropriation that was increased by $1.25 billion in March under the American Rescue Plan Act.
After the SBA began accepting applications April 8, technical problems forced a two-week pause, followed by relatively few grant awards over the next couple of months.
SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman said Tuesday in a statement that the agency is now delivering money quickly, efficiently and fairly. “I’m proud that, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our talented team, we have turned the ship around,” she said.
The agency continues to accept applications for remaining program funds. More information is available at sba.gov/svogrant.
The five biggest Hawaii Shuttered Venue Operators Grants:
>> Dream Weekend LLP — $10 million
>> Polynesian Cultural Center — $10 million
>> Robert’s Hawaii Holdings — $8.6 million
>> PC Services Inc. (Paradise Cove Luau) — $8.5 million
>> Tihati Productions Ltd. — $8.1 million
Source: U.S. Small Business Administration