Pittsburgh venues frustrated with held-up federal funds from Save Our Stages Act | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh venues frustrated with held-up federal funds from Save Our Stages Act

Pittsburgh music and entertainment venues have been crushed by the pandemic. They have been forced to close due to COVID restrictions, they have tried to raise funds to keep staff employed and have lobbied Congress for funds to help them stay afloat.

Relief came in the form of the Save Our Stages Act, which passed in December 2020 and allocated $16 billion for venues that had been economically distressed by the pandemic. Last week, the online portal finally went live so businesses could apply for those funds, but it immediately crashed. According to Variety, no date has been announced for the portal to be fixed.

For some Pittsburgh venue owners and entertainment companies, the uncertainty and extra wait for relief is coming at a hard time. They say they can’t wait any longer.

Liz Berlin, who runs Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale, says the delay prolongs the venue’s state of uncertainty. She says the business needs those funds to stay afloat, and adds that people can purchase Mr. Smalls merchandise or contribute to its Keep the Lights On Fund to help the theater raise money.

“After the loss of all income for more than a year and shouldering the burden of our monthly expenses just to exist, we have decimated all of our resources and incurred incredible debt just to sit still and exist, in the hopes of making it through this,” says Berlin in a statement. “While the SVO grant appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel, that tunnel is getting longer like in a bad dream, and the end is not feeling like a given.”

Without being to operate in-person venues, many Pittsburgh venues have come together to put on virtual shows. But those efforts, while valiant, have not come close to covering costs to keep venues like Mr. Smalls open.

Berlin says it’s even more frustrating since she has not heard any guarantees when, or if, the portal will be fixed. The U.S. Small Business Administration is running the Save Our Stages program, but the SBA tweeted on April 14 that it “has identified and fixed the initial issues related to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal,” but there is still no date provided on when the portal will reopen.

Brian Drusky, who runs the local entertainment company Drusky Entertainment, says the situation is tough to deal with, since his business has spent over a year with “no real normal,” when it comes to shows.

“It has been a tough ride for us and for many to be able to connect to the dots to get back to normalcy," says Drusky. “It’s frustrating to say the least.”