SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—On March 10, 2020, the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz held a live performance, complete with a large audience, full band, and an open kitchen and bar.
What staff, musicians and patrons didn’t know at the time was that the concert would be the center’s last live event for more than a year. The pandemic brought everything to a halt, shutting the Kuumbwa and all other venues like it to slow the spread of the virus.
“Suddenly, we didn’t have any more ticket or cafe sales, no promoters renting our space… all local events just came to an end,” said Kuumbwa’s Executive Director Bobbi Todaro. “It was shocking.”
Help for venues like the Kuumbwa might finally be coming thanks to the new $900 billion Covid-19 Relief Act, which was signed into law on Dec. 27. The act includes a $15 billion funding package meant for independent arts and cultural venues through the Save Our Stages (SOS) Act.
SOS was passed thanks to a lobbying effort led by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), a coalition of more than 1,200 live venues across the U.S. The program, to be handled by the Small Business Administration, will assist live venue operators, promoters, theatrical producers, performing arts organizations, museums, movie theaters and talent representatives.
“It’s a remarkable story, what NIVA has accomplished,” Todaro said. “This funding is going to help so many.”
Kuumbwa, a nonprofit which also works with county schools on music education, was able to apply and receive a loan from the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), which was part of last year’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. But unlike PPP loans, SOS funding is grants-based, meaning venues will not need to pay back the amounts.
This will greatly help live venues, which even after the pandemic will not be able to open immediately—instead, they have to wait for the touring industry to return to somewhat normal operations. Artists, crews and more will all need to be re-hired.
The SOS act allocates funds for payroll, employee benefits, rent and mortgage, insurance and other business expenses, incurred during the period from March 1, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2021. The funds cap out at $10 million to each establishment selected.
Todaro said she and other local venue owners have been connecting regularly, discussing which funding opportunities were available. They’ve received help from Santa Cruz County Bank, the Small Business Development Center and Arts Council Santa Cruz County, as well as national organizations such as Americans for the Arts.
“Having these relationships goes a long way,” she said. “It really helps make sure we know who to talk to about what.”
In addition to the SOS grants, other assistance such as PPP loans and tax write-offs are expanding this time around, giving opportunities to small, independent businesses and organizations. For example, PPP loans will be limited to companies with fewer than 300 employees.
This includes 501(c)(6) organizations such as chambers of commerce, which were not eligible for CARES funding. Shaz Roth, CEO of the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, called the aid a “game-changer.”
“It will really just help us stay afloat,” Roth said. “We haven’t been able to have events or fundraisers. Businesses are not renewing their memberships, which is what we mainly rely on. This is going to help out a lot.”
The Kuumbwa, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2020, has done its best to remain engaged with the community during the pandemic, kicking off a weekly virtual concert series filmed at their venue.
“I hear from people all the time that live music is what they miss the most,” Todaro said. “Being together with a lot of people in one room who share the same values, having a meal and a glass of wine… Concerts are a great expression of joy. This [funding] will help guarantee we can do it again.”