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Local Stages Struggle with Delay in Federal Relief Funding

Historic Ironwood Theatre Facebook

COVID-19 put a dramatic halt to live performances, which left many theaters, performers and artists without incoming revenue for months.

The federal government tried to help by allocating billions of dollars to support arts organizations and venues.

But for many, that aid still hasn’t arrived.

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant was signed into federal law at the end of December.

It promised dark theaters and shuttered stages up to 45 percent of their revenue.

That’s a potentially business-saving amount for organizations that struggled to make any money last year.

But technical issues held up the April application rollout for weeks.

Even now, very few organizations have actually received the money.

Two weeks ago, only four Wisconsin organizations had been awarded the grant, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Now, that number is up to 50, but that still leaves tons of arts organizations wondering if and when they’ll receive help.

Zona Wick is the president on the board of directors for the Historic Ironwood Theatre.

It’s among the theaters waiting for funding.

“Since we applied, we’ve received word twice to please be patient,” she says. “But we have not heard if we’ve been awarded any amount yet.”

Wick says patience is part of the grant game, but for people like George Rouman, owner of Rhinelander’s Rouman Cinema, time is running out.

“We’re struggling,” Rouman says. “I’m putting off repair work that needs to done.”

Rouman’s Cinema lost more than 90 percent of its revenue last year.

Rouman was counting on this money to help him pay for his property taxes due at the end of July.

He could also use the funds to help him stock up on concessions, so that he can make money during a busy tourism season.

Like many others in the industry, he thought the grant money would be available by now.

Instead, he’s stuck in the pending stage.

“We know help is coming, but it’s just not here yet,” he says. “And it’s excruciating.”

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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