Duluth venues struggle to hang on, hope targeted aid will keep them afloat | Duluth News Tribune

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Christine Gradl Seitz, executive director of Duluth Playhouse, said that because the COVID-19 pandemic has forced theaters and performance venues to close, many once-vibrant organizations are struggling to survive, and people behind the scenes often feel almost forgotten. .

She said: "It is really shocking that very few people pay attention to art and cultural groups."

But this will change with the "Save the Stage" bill recently approved by Congress, which is expected to provide $15 billion in aid to troubled theaters and arts groups.

Regarding the issue of obtaining some of these aid funds, Glad Seitz said: "Of course, we hold our breath."

The Duluth Playhouse, along with hundreds of other organizations across the country, provides support for the COVID-19 relief program, but Gradl Seitz said that it is supervised by the Small Business Administration (Small Business Administration). The plan is still too new to know exactly how it will work.

She said: "We are a bit stuck, waiting to understand what is about to happen."

However, Roger Reinert, interim executive director of the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, expects that funding from the SOS Act will help his organization. The grant provided by the program is equivalent to 45% of the recipient's total income in 2019.

"Of course we are qualified," Reinert said. "This is just a question: Are Bayfront and Amsoil and DECC Arena activities and auditoriums counted as the assistance we get? After the SBA has developed guidelines, how to solve the problem is just a question. But we should be 100% eligible for the grant ."

Tony Cuneo, executive director of Zeitgeist, a non-profit arts organization in Duluth, said he is still waiting to see the official standard for SOS assistance, but based on what he has heard, he is still optimistic.

"Four of our five major programs have been profoundly affected by COVID: performance theaters, restaurants, movie theaters, and theater companies. COVID has had a profound impact on all of these," Cuneo said.

Sheila Smith, executive director of the Minnesota Civic Art Association, said that SBA is expected to release details of the SOS program within a few weeks.

The "SOS Act" aims to put some of the arts and theater organizations that need the most help in the first place. In the first 14 days after the start of the plan, priority will be given to organizations whose income has fallen 90% or more between April 1, 2020 and the end of the year. In the next few weeks, the priority group will be expanded to include organizations whose revenue has fallen by 70% or more during the same period.

Smith said that she thinks this approach "is really smart, and points out that the art world has been destroyed by the pandemic and many organizations have quietly disappeared."

"So, every dollar they get from the COVID relief fund is expected to help them survive to the other end. But, man, this will be a difficult road." She said.

Smith (Smith) said that health authorities predict that it may take nine months for the epidemic to be brought under control.

However, some much-needed theaters and art organizations may not be eligible for SOS help.

Bob Boone opened the West Theatre in West Duluth in the fall of 2019, a few months before the pandemic.

He said: "We set out to build the best movie theater, and the budget was excessive, and it took too long." But he pointed out that this nearly $2 million project started with the crude shell of a theater that has been closed. 40 years. years.

Boone said: "We lost money, so poor that I can't afford the letters of the big tent," Boone added. In the end he pooled enough money to buy the letters of the "Lion King", and used each letter as needed. The price of $15 adds each character for subsequent titles.

He said: "Actually, one month before COVID, I turned the corner because I was lucky, and then the business disappeared from the earth."

With only a few months of operating income data starting in 2019, he may not be eligible for help through the SOS program, but Boone said he appears to be eligible for help from the Minnesota Cinema Relief Program.

Boone said: "There are still many mysteries for several different reasons, but if all goes well, there are all kinds of positive energy."

Cuneo said that Zinema employees must be creative in order to respond to changing rules.

"Suffice to say that this is necessary, and our team is encouraged to achieve these keys and continue to provide the community with truly outstanding programming capabilities. But we really miss someone in our space," he said.

Zeitgeist's Zinema provides a channel to watch art movies online.

He said: “Our performance theater has been broadcasting live concerts and helping artists raise funds to use Teatro as a safe performance venue and have the technology to stream works.”

Gradl Seitz stated that the theater retained "the backbone of the staff, who have done a very good job of maintaining our presence and maintaining relevance."

She said: "What's worse is doing nothing." "So we must continue to do something. We must continue to be part of this community and rebuild it. Not taking any action will only put us in a weaker position. , Cannot reopen."

The Playhouse is engaged in some online streaming media production, which Gradl Seitz admits is unprofitable.

"They only spend money. But, having said that, some of our online courses do a good job and make the connection between people more important. It allows the communication between artists and people who want to support art to continue. Therefore, even if you pay a certain price, I think it is vital to the health of the organization," she said.

Governor Tim Walz recently authorized the theater to reopen at no more than 25% of the production capacity. Gardl Seitz said that the Northell Theater has already planned seating and can still keep guests gathering. The 6-foot distance between them further reduces the inventory of available seats.

She said: "As a result, it was hit much deeper than people thought."

Nevertheless, Gradl Seitz expressed confidence.

"We will do it. Without help, we will never be able to achieve this goal. But so far, we have achieved this. Of course, we are one of thousands of art groups that are consuming Our reserves. At the expense of the financial stability of the Playhouse and NorShor Theater, this is at the cost of all our efforts for them," she said.

Cuneo said he hopes the aid will reach all parts of the country faster, "because we have lost some truly unique cultural organizations, independent restaurants and theaters."

He said: "I know some people have closed their doors, and this may be a permanent loss." "It takes a lot of time to start these jobs. If they have found success before, there is no guarantee that they will find success again."

But Cuneo is still optimistic.

He said: "I think if we can get some support, it is very important to get us through the back end of this pandemic and allow us to welcome people back to our building." I think we can be sure We will. "

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