ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new $15 billion U.S. Small Business Administration program targeting closed theaters and entertainment venues is nearly ready to launch, but some in New Mexico’s entertainment industry are worried they won’t be included.
“At the end of the day, the people who come and make the concert happen, they’re not going to see a cent of that,” said Daniel Chavez, owner of Revel and event services company NRG in Albuquerque.
The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, which was part of the federal stimulus bill signed into law in December, allows eligible applicants – including concert venues, theaters, aquariums and museums – to apply for grants equal to 45% of their gross earned revenue, up to $10 million. Of that total, $2 billion is set aside for operators with 50 employees or fewer, according to the SBA.
John Garcia, district director for New Mexico’s SBA office, said the goal of the program is to help venues, many of which have been shuttered since the COVID-19 pandemic began and are ineligible for other programs, stay afloat until it’s safe to re-open.
“I think this opens up that window of opportunity for them,” Garcia said.
However, Chavez and other people in the industry say the program, as currently constructed, leaves out the independent production staff, including roadies, stagehands and lighting and sound engineers, who are needed to put on shows in the first place.
“Any of those companies that have poured their heart and soul into this industry are gonna be left by the wayside,” Chavez said.
According to the current guidance from the SBA, operators without a fixed performance space will be ineligible.
But they still play a big part in producing live events. Nena Ugarte, accounting comptroller for Quickbeam Systems, an event production company based in Albuquerque, said many venues in New Mexico that aren’t affiliated with a university don’t have the in-house equipment or staff to put on a concert without working with contractors to handle the lights, sounds and other elements.
“You can’t have a concert around here without people like us,” Ugarte said.
Ugarte said she doesn’t begrudge venue operators their inclusion in the program, but said she would like to see the money help those working behind the scenes as well. She said Quickbeam’s revenue has dropped by about 80% since the pandemic began.
“I just don’t think it’s right that we’re getting cut out,” she said.
Garcia said the SBA has not yet committed to a launch date, and even operators who likely qualify for the program are getting impatient.
Mark Travis, co-owner of The Dirty Bourbon in Albuquerque, said he expects his company, which has been shuttered since March, to qualify for a grant. But without being sure, Travis said he’s in limbo until the SBA provides more information.
The eligibility guidelines prevent Travis from applying for a second round of funding through the Paycheck Protection Program if he’s hoping to participate in the more targeted program.
“There’s still so many unknowns about it,” he said.
Garcia stressed that details around eligibility have not yet been finalized. He said he’s worked to relay concerns from New Mexicans in the entertainment industry to higher-ups at SBA, and said the rules could yet change before the program launches.
“If it was set in stone, I think they would have already launched it,” Garcia said.