More than a year after the pandemic closed music and performing arts venues across the country, relief is finally in sight. The lobbying efforts led by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) calling for Congress to #SaveOurStages has manifested as the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program (SVOG).

If you’re a venue owner or promoter, you probably have questions: Am I eligible? How much grant money can I apply for? How do I apply? What if I already received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan? 

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has a helpful SVOG web portal that includes deadlines, detailed eligibility requirements, and much more information. 

We’ve also got you covered with general information about the program, along with answers to some of your burning questions. 

UPDATE: Applications for the SVOG program are “temporarily suspended,” according to a message posted on the SBA SVOG portal “due to technical difficulties.” The message says that “SBA will share advance notice of the time and date before the reopening so all applicants can be prepared and to ensure equitable access.”

What is the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program?

In December, Congress passed a COVID-19 relief bill that included a version of the NIVA-supported Save Our Stages Act, which was renamed the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Non-profits, and Venues Act, and established the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. The program includes $16.2 billion in grant funds to aid the recovery of venues and other eligible small entertainment businesses that have been shuttered or hit hard by the pandemic. 

Which businesses are eligible?

Shuttered live entertainment spaces like music venues, which lobbied hard last year via NIVA, are the focus of this program, but grants are available to a variety of businesses. Here’s the full list, as defined by the SBA:

  • Live venue operators or promoters
  • Theatrical producers
  • Live performing arts organization operators
  • Relevant museum operators, zoos, and aquariums who meet specific criteria
  • Motion picture theater operators
  • Talent representatives
  • Each business entity owned by an eligible entity that also meets the eligibility requirements
  • Mobile, portable, or touring venues that meet the space-related requirements (e.g., defined performance and audience spaces, lighting rig, etc.) in the Economic Aid Act. 

To be eligible, businesses must have been in operation as of Feb. 29, 2020 and either have a place of business in the US or operate primarily in the US. Some businesses are excluded from eligibility, including those that are publicly traded or majority-owned by publicly traded entities, and those that are owned or operated by businesses in more than one country or more than 10 states that also had more than 500 employees as of Feb. 29, 2020. 

For more on eligibility requirements, read the latest SBA FAQ

How much grant money can I receive?

The SBA will determine your grant amounts based on the following criteria: 

  • If you were in operation on January 1, 2019, grants will equal to 45% of 2019 gross earned revenue, or $10 million, whichever is less.
  • For a business that began operation after January 1, 2019, grants will equal to the average monthly gross earned revenue for each full month you were in operation during 2019 multiplied by six, or $10 million, whichever is less.

While each applicant is eligible for up to $10 million in grant funding, the SBA has noted that actual awards will likely be less than that. In a webinar hosted by the SBA on Eventbrite in March, the SBA estimated giving out 15,000 awards with an average grant of $1 million each, though the agency is not bound to follow those estimates. 

What can grant money be used for?

Eligible businesses can use their SVOG grant to cover a myriad of business expenses, notably payroll, rent, utilities, and mortgage payments. The SBA lists all of the following as acceptable uses for grant money: 

  • Payroll costs
  • Rent payments
  • Utility payments
  • Scheduled mortgage payments 
  • Scheduled debt payments 
  • Worker protection expenditures
  • Payments to independent contractors
  • Other ordinary and necessary business expenses, including maintenance costs
  • Administrative costs (including fees and licensing)
  • State and local taxes and fees
  • Operating leases in effect as of February 15, 2020
  • Insurance payments
  • Advertising, production transportation, and capital expenditures related to producing a theatrical or live performing arts production (May not be the primary use of funds)

Grantees may not use award funds to:

  • Buy real estate
  • Make payments on loans originated after February 15, 2020
  • Make investments or loans
  • Make contributions or other payments to, or on behalf of, political parties, political committees, or candidates for election
  • Any other use prohibited by the Administrator

It’s important to remember that this is a grant, not a loan, so the funds do not need to be paid back. However, grantees must keep documentation demonstrating compliance with eligibility requirements and, according to the SBA, “retain employment records for four years following their receipt of a grant and retain all other records for three years.”

How do I apply?

Before applications open on April 8, SBA recommends that applicants register for an account on sam.gov, where they can sign up for updates, download the application checklist, and review FAQs. You can also visit the application portal — svograntportal.sba.gov — in advance. Applications will be reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, and in accordance with the priority phases. Make sure to compile all the required documents in advance of applications opening. 

Note: Registration on sam.gov can take seven business days or more, and SBA cannot provide application assistance.

Do any businesses get priority? 

Yes, SBA has four priority tiers to determine who gets funding first, depending on remaining funds:

  • First priority
    • Timing: First 14 days of grant awards
    • Eligibility: Entities that suffered a 90% or greater revenue loss between April 2020 and December 2020 due to the pandemic
  • Second priority
    • Timing: Next 14 days of grant awards
    • Eligibility: Entities that suffered a 70% or greater revenue loss between April 2020 and December 2020 due to pandemic
  • Third priority
    • Timing: Beginning 28 days after first and second priority awards are made
    • Eligibility: Entities that suffered a 25% or greater earned revenue loss between one quarter of 2019 and the corresponding quarter of 2020
  • Supplemental funding
    • Timing: Available after all priority periods have passed
    • Eligibility: Recipients of first, second, and third priority round awards who suffered a 70% or greater revenue loss for the most recent calendar quarter (as of April 1, 2021, or later).

Additionally, for the first 59 days, SBA will reserve no less than $2 billion for small businesses that have 50 employees or less.

What if a business already received a Paycheck Protection Program loan? 

Businesses can still apply for the SVOG program if they received a loan from either of the PPP programs, thanks to an amendment that passed in the American Rescue Act last month. However, the SBA notes that any “venue or promoter who received a PPP loan on or after December 27, 2020, will have the SVOG reduced by the PPP loan amount.”

What if I have more questions?

Head to the SBA’s informational page about the SVOG program, the SVOG application portal, or the regularly updated FAQs

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