Grants to help Cape venues compete with casinos

Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro was one of seven Cape Cod & Islands venues this week that received a Gaming Mitigation grant from the Mass Cultural Council. Photo by Ron Schloerb for the Cape Cod Times

CAPE COD TIMES – Darlene Love sang several concerts over the years for Payomet Performing Arts Center, but once Massachusetts casinos opened, the North Truro venue could no longer afford her fee.

Payomet had paid Love $10,000 to $12,000 for the show, said Kevin Rice, the company’s executive artistic director, but “her fee doubled overnight to $20,000” once Love got a new agent and started playing at casinos.

Three Dog Night and Tommy James and the Shondells were other nostalgia acts that became too expensive to schedule for Cape audiences because of casinos, Rice said.

“When I see someone is appearing regularly at casinos, I think ‘Forget it, I can’t compete,’” he said Thursday.

Rice said casinos are paying “princely sums” for entertainment as a way to get people into the gaming rooms to spend money.

Massachusetts lawmakers are trying to make up for some of that disparity.

Payomet is one of seven Cape Cod & Islands venues this week that were part of the first round of a $3.34 million program administered by the Mass Cultural Council to “protect and preserve the ability of (arts) venues to compete” when casinos created a “new, unbalanced marketplace” for national touring acts.

The council announced 52 Gaming Mitigation grants, which are paid for by a small portion of gaming revenues under the Expanded Gaming Act of 2011. The program in its current form was signed into law in December by Gov. Charlie Baker after casinos opened in 2018.

The biggest local grant, $250,000, was given to South Shore Playhouse Associates, which runs the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis and the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset. That was the highest amount possible to get, and only five grants of that size were given out, including to Boston Symphony and the Boch Center in Boston.

Melody Tent officials did not respond for comment about the grant.

Other area grants included $18,472 to The Yard dance program in Chilmark; $16,183 to Cotuit Center for the Arts; $9,518 to Nantucket Dreamland theater; $8,915 to the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival; and $1,000 to the Provincetown Jazz Festival.

“This is very good news indeed,” said David Kuehn, executive director of Cotuit Center for the Arts.

In recent years, the Cotuit center has hosted concerts by national artists including Art Garfunkel, Judy Collins, Steve Earle, Paula Cole and Tom Rush. Kuehn said center staff also “have noticed a trend of higher fees.”

Also expressing appreciation for the grant money, Ali Geroche, development associate for The Yard, noted the company relies on grants to be able to present international touring artists, adding that it is “in no position to compete with casinos.”

With all the organizations devastated by pandemic-related closures, the funds — earmarked for artist fees, housing or other expenses — are expected to help pay for events after reopening.

“We need support for future programs now … to ensure we remain forward-looking and emerge from this crisis able to operate and bring touring artists to our venue again,” Geroche said.

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By Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll