Entertainment Grant Not Hoped For Lifeline, Creatives Say

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COVID-19 cases are higher now than at any other time in the coronavirus pandemic, and the vaccination rollout is moving slowly because the District does not have enough doses to meet demand. It’s hard to imagine when we’ll all be able to visit Black Cat on 14th Street NW to watch a show and drink DC Brau on draft. Crowds in poorly ventilated spaces can be lethal.  

For people who book the bands, promote the shows, or provide technical support at the sites, the closures of venues is not only heartbreaking for local culture and nightlife—it’s devastating. They are without jobs.

In December, theater professionals told City Paper they’d have to leave the industry without significant relief, and five locals who worked at independent music venues before the shutdown shared how they’re scraping by with no concerts in sight. These creative types tend to be self-employed. “Get one day a week each at the music venues, and you got a full time job,” explains Graham Smith-White, who’s worked in the music industry for 20 years.

Smith-White, as a part of the DC Music Stakeholders, a grassroots coalition of artists, venues, and local activists, had been advocating for direct aid to his industry. DC Music Stakeholders even drafted legislation, but it never went anywhere in the D.C. Council. 

Then came hope: Congress passed a stimulus bill with the Save Our Stages act included, and locals got a lifeline, the D.C. government’s Entertainment Bridge Fund. Or so they thought. Smith-White, along with a number of other creative entrepreneurs, says the eligibility requirements for the one of the District’s entertainment grants are too restrictive. A big problem? Individuals who filed for unemployment benefits don’t qualify for any more government aid, even though the grant is billed for sole proprietors in the entertainment space. 

“This is my opinion: The majority of the people on that list are receiving [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance]. So we need this,” says Michelle Busch, of Event Solutions DC. “This is not going toward my rent, this is not going towards things of that nature. This is going towards my business. I still have to pay taxes. I still have to keep subscriptions up. There are things I have to take care of via my business that this money would help. And then I would be able to stimulate the economy in some type of way!”  

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