Latest Shuttered Venue Grant FAQ Provides Increased Detail

While I am sure a lot of performing arts venues have been closely paying attention to news about Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program designed to help arts organizations impacted by Covid shutdowns, you probably wouldn’t have expected a major update to a government department’s FAQ document to be rolled out on a Sunday.

There was a major update to the SVOG FAQ on Sunday.

It isn’t difficult to identify what information is new because anything that didn’t appear in the February 12 update has a * next to it.

This version answers a lot of questions I have heard asked in webinars, including specific information about the eligibility of performing arts venues run by university, state and local governments. Similarly, there is detailed information which apply to museums.

The February 28 version also provides new definitions for a lot of terms like museum, promoter, regular programming, theatrical producer, performing arts organization operator, cover charge, mixing equipment, lighting rig, sound engineer, etc.

The question of what constituted fixed seating came up a lot in webinars I attended because it is a significant requirement to receive funding in some instances. In this version they added the following information:

*Would heavy bleachers pushed back against the wall when not in use but never removed from a theater qualify as fixed seating?

Yes. Any cumbersome seating not easily or regularly removed from a theater will be considered fixed.

While there is a requirement that people be paid fairly in the legislation, earlier versions of the FAQ explained that volunteer labor did not exclude a venue from apply if the staff managing the venue were paid. This means that many community theatre organizations may also be eligible for SVOG funding.

The FAQ that illustrates this best is probably the following, which also appeared in earlier versions:

If a venue’s box office is staffed by volunteers is it eligible to apply? Yes. Among the criteria included in the live venue operator or promoter definition is a requirement that a qualifying venue must engage at least one individual to perform at least two of the following roles: sound engineer, booker, promoter, stage manager security personnel, and box office manager. The Economic Aid Act does not reference any hired box office staff other than a box office manager and does not absolutely require even that position. As such, the use of volunteers to staff a venue’s box office would not preclude it from being eligible to apply for an SVOG.

There is also some oddly specific questions that makes me think the legislation was intentionally written to provide eligibility to a corporate entity.

Does a live venue operator who qualifies as an “eligible person or entity” remain eligible for an SVOG if that live venue operator has a minority investor (less than 51% ownership) that has more than 500 employees, locations in 11 or more states, and locations in 2 or more countries? Is that the only ownership/control-related grounds for disqualifying someone?

Yes. The Economic Aid Act speaks only of majority ownership and control in the context of the disqualifying conditions related to being listed on a stock exchange or to the geographic scope of operations and number of employees. There are no other control requirements in the statute.

If you hadn’t researched SVOG funding or didn’t think you qualified, the latest version of the FAQ should provide a greater degree of clarity than any previous version. (Though the additional detail may dash the hopes generated by the previous vagueness.)

What Outcome Had The US Have Sustained Its Version Of The BBC?

Back in December, Joseph Horowitz had a lengthy piece in The American Scholar about the impact of the pandemic on the arts in America. I may revisit the article in future posts, but there was one section that caught my attention because it seemed a testament to both the influence of a shared cultural ideal and the power of leaders who advance an agenda.

Horowitz writes that while there was resistance to government run media a la the BBC, there seemed to be enough will and interest post-Works Progress Administration to support programming featuring public intellectuals and artists.

A little-known footnote to this 1930s saga of the artist and the state was an unsuccessful campaign to implement an “American BBC,” … An alliance of university and radio leaders argued that a public radio system would ghettoize education. “Controlled radio” was also denounced as a “threat to democracy.” Crucially, David Sarnoff and William Paley, leading NBC and CBS respectively, were visionaries for whom an educational mission incorporating culture was a genuine priority, whatever its commercial liabilities…

Later, when TV entered the picture, CBS initiated Leonard Bernstein’s Omnibus specials and Young People’s Concerts, and Sarnoff created an NBC Opera offering innovative productions of opera in English. But Paley retired as president in 1959, Sarnoff in 1970; their successors gradually abandoned the high mission at hand. PBS and NPR, ironically, have offered nothing remotely as ambitious as the arts programming CBS and NBC once championed. If American arts audiences today compare unfavorably with audiences elsewhere, the minimal role of the state—the cumulative absence of an “American BBC”—is far from irrelevant.

I frequently hear people extolling Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts and wonder why no one tries to replicate them since they were so well-received, but Horowitz’s piece recounts how the lack of investment, both in terms of general policy and economics, allowed both opportunity and popular will and interest in these experiences to wane.

Even though the Western canon of arts and literature were lionized to the exclusion of others during this era, a different infrastructure would exist today to amplify a shift telling a broader range of stories had focus and investment been sustained.

Horowitz’s conclusion near the close of the article is that the upheaval cause by the pandemic has provided another set of opportunities to effect enduring change if we are ready to take it.

Be Sure Your Data Doesn’t Just Mean You Are Good At Posting Memes

If you have been reading my writing for the last few years, you know that in addition to employing the preceding phrase fairly often, I argue that not everything that can be measured about an arts organization’s activity is a valid measure of the value of the organization and the work it does.

What should also be acknowledged as a corollary to that is that not all data is created equal or equally valuable. Since there is a growing push for arts organizations to do a better job of embracing data-driven decision making .

Over at Arts Hacker, I recently summarized a post by Colleen Dilenschneider distinguishing between key performance indicators (KPIs), diagnostic metrics and vanity metrics.

Briefly, KPIs measure progress toward your mission/goals, diagnostic metrics inform KPIs and vanity metrics sound impressive, but aren’t an indication of any sort of progress. (i.e. Your social media engagement increased 1000% in a week because you posted a kitten meme.)

The problem, Dillenschneider says, is that valuing vanity metrics can result in allocating resources away from mission focused activities and evaluation. For example, the executive director may suddenly gain national prominence and invitations to speak at conferences, etc. which may raise the profile of the organization and make many stakeholders extremely proud of their association.

But if this isn’t contributing to a recognition of problems with the quality of the work being done and the poor community interactions that are occurring, then there is no value to having a year over year increase in the number of speaking invitations.

If you are trying to use data to inform your decisions, take a look at the post. The line between KPIs and diagnostic metrics can be confusing and it can be easy to categorize the latter as part of the former without a reminder of the dividing line.


Yes, Data Driven Decision Making. But What Data Is Important?

An Eye For Justice And Opera

I knew Ruth Bader Ginsburg loved opera. There are stories about her and Justice Scalia’s friendship and shared love of opera. A few weeks ago, I had written about the artistic director of the Tulsa Opera’s comments in a documentary film about being married by Justice Ginsburg who had admired the director’s work as a composer.

I have to say I appreciated that Chief Justice Robert’s eulogy today used her love of the performing arts as a significant theme, referencing opera multiple times, her rock star reputation and speaking of the court as her stage.  I wish more eulogies were that way. It makes the deceased seem like they lived a more well rounded life versus simply talking about their professional accomplishments.

So I was annoyed that some news sources edited the performing arts content out of videos of Robert’s speech.

There were a couple article this weekend about Ginsburg’s passion for the arts, but the one I like best was written by the Washington Post’s Peter Marks.

Not only was she a passionate spectator, she made cameo appearances in some productions and appears to have married a whole lot of creatives along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

It was interesting to note that the very first commenter on the Washington Post article says he asked for a refund as soon as he saw Ginsburg was performing that night because he paid good money to see professionals, not amateurs perform.

That, of course, is a whole other discussion.

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