Arts and Culture

After months of waiting, owners of Kentucky and Indiana venues are starting to see much-needed pandemic federal aid.

The funds are from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program (SVOG), managed by the Small Business Administration. 

Joe Argabrite, co-owner of  Louisville’s Headliners Music Hall and Production Simple, said their funding came in earlier this month. For him, it was a huge sense of relief.  

“It felt like everybody that supported us locally by not refunding their tickets, or helping with the GoFundMe for staff or buying merchandise, didn’t do it in vain,” he said. “They helped us bridge the gap to the grants. And now we’re hoping to make sure we’re a good steward of all of it.”

Live entertainment businesses have been largely shut down for more than a year, hanging on with the hope that these grants would come through. But the program has been bogged down with technical issues, clerical problems and confusion since it launched in early April, delaying the critical aid further. 

Last week, the SBA released an updated FAQ to clarify questions around eligibility and the application process. 

Co-owner Billy Hardison said Headliners got about $650,000, and a little more than $1 million in funds went to Production Simple. The fall season would not have been possible without these grants, he added.

“Our industry as independent entrepreneurs having drained all of our own personal funding to get to this point our backs are against the wall,” Hardison said. “And then this money came.” 

J. Tyler Franklin

WFPK’s NYE concert at Headliners in 2015.

Headliners and Production Simple had joined a country-wide initiative called The National Independent Venue Association, or NIVA, which lobbied for COVID-19 relief for the industry.

Hardison said he’s recently been hearing from other nearby live entertainment businesses with their good SVOG news. 

“Every one of these texts or phone calls I get from somebody in the state saying that they came through — you know, it’s been a year and a half fighting for this — that feels just as wonderful [as us getting the money],” he said.

Other Louisville groups to have been awarded the federal grants include the Kentucky Science Center, which got more than $1.1 million, Louisville Orchestra was awarded $244,583, and Actors Theatre of Louisville will receive more than $2.2 million, according to the SBA’s database.

According to the most recent SBA report, 82 Kentucky businesses had been awarded a shuttered venue grant as of midday July 19, totaling more than $40.4 million. The report also shows that more than $83 million in these grants have been awarded to 126 Indiana organizations.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.