San Diego Zoo

Feds Rescue San Diego Arts to the Tune of $200 Million

San Diego Zoo, Midway Museum get $10 million; Belly Up and Old Globe awarded $8 million

NBC Universal, Inc.

Nearly $200 million of federal grants have been pumped into the coffers of local independent arts organizations, going a long way toward saving the cultural heritage of San Diego County, perhaps the hardest-pressed sector of the economy during the nearly two-year pandemic.

Most of the affected organizations closed down with the March 2020 lockdown, then were forced to got creative during the pandemic, selling merch or to-go cocktails, but none of it amounted to much for the struggling businesses and nonprofits, whose creativity and perseverance kept them on their feet till they could reopen last year on California’s color-tier schedule.

The Shuttered Venue Operators grants were distributed in 2021 locally to more than 160 nightclub operators, promoters, talent representatives, museums and theatres both theatrical and film, a total of just over $199 million. That figure balloons to more than $2 billion statewide, according to the National Independent Venue Association.

“These dollars not only support independent venues, promoters and festivals, but also support the entire region by helping to drive revenue to hospitality, lodging, transportation and numerous other sectors of employment,“ Joe Rinaldi, general manager of the Music Box San Diego, which got a grant of $1.5 million, is quoted as saying in a news release sent out this week by Rep. Scott Peter’s office .

From the federal data, it appears that the grants began to be awarded in June of last year, with some — Winston’s in OB, for instance ($771,471) — getting theirs as late as mid-December.

Many of the biggest recipients of the federal largesse are iconic, at least locally: The San Diego Zoological Society and the USS Midway Museum both received the maximum $10 million grants, but so did the Sound Talent Group, which listed an airport hanger in El Cajon as its address.

The business, which, according to its website, was founded in 2018, is “among the world’s leading live music agencies,“ but few of the artists on its roster — which is certainly lengthy and does feature Jane's Addiction guitarist and former Red Hot Chili Pepper Dave Navarro, Guns n' Roses bassist Duff McKagan, Run-DMC, the locals of Pierce the Veil and Mexican stars Panteon Rococo, among others — are household names.

Rounding out the Top 5 grant recipients in San Diego are the Old Globe Theatre — no surprise there, with a $8 million and one dollar award — and one that is a surprise: Solana Beach’s Belly Up Tavern, which got $8,085,115. Now, if you’re wondering, that figure does NOT include the Belly Up’s sister club in Aspen, Colorado, which independently received a $5.3 million grant.

The grants were the difference between surviving the pandemic and shuttering, for many locals, including the Belly Up.

“Life or death,“ said Chris Goldsmith, president Belly Up Entertainment. “Just absolutely amazing and, you know, we were hit hard. You know, nobody can say, 'Well, you should have managed your business better or whatever. There’s no … we were just decimated. So it was absolutely important.“

The Belly Up ended up as one of the largest local recipients, Goldsmith said, because "expenses are commensurate to your revenues, and that is the reason why there are variations” between venues.

“So if you had an enormous revenue coming in, then you’re gonna get an enormous amount to make up for it, because your overhead is substantial, too,“ Goldsmith said.

And here’s the result: A nearly full January show calendar at the Belly Up.

Other music venues turning up on the list:

Other notable San Diego locations that were recipients:

  • Birch Aquarium: $4,128,116
  • California Center for the Arts, Escondido: $3,666,911
  • Reuben H. Fleet Science Center: $3,627,345
  • 22nd District Agricultural Association (Del Mar Fairgrounds): $2,276,895
  • San Diego Society of Natural History: $1,822,409
  • Maritime Museum Association of San Diego: $1,700,208
  • San Diego Opera Association: $1,648,333
  • San Diego Pride: $813,184

Here’s a full list of local recipients:

Recipients were permitted to use the grants to pay for the following:

  • Payroll
  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Scheduled mortgage payments (not including prepayment of principal)
  • Scheduled debt payments (not including prepayment of principal on any indebtedness incurred in the ordinary course of business prior to Feb. 15, 2020)
  • Worker protection expenditures
  • Payments to independent contractors (not to exceed $100,000 in annual compensation for an individual employee of an independent contractor)
  • Other ordinary and necessary business expenses, including maintenance costs
  • Administrative costs (including fees and licensing)
  • State and local taxes and fees
  • Operating leases in effect as of Feb. 15, 2020
  • Insurance payments
  • Advertising, production transportatio, and capital expenditures related to producing a theatrical or live performing arts production (may not be primary use of funds)

Organizations receiving the grants could not use the money to buy real estate; make payments on loans originated after Feb. 15, 2020; make investments or loans; make contributions or other payments to, or on behalf of, political parties, political committees, or candidates for election; or any other use.

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