CAPE COD TIMES – “A genuine lifesaver” is how co-founder Brenda Withers described $54,000 in state COVID-19 relief announced Wednesday to help Harbor Stage Company in Wellfleet survive the pandemic that canceled its 2020 season.
The small team behind the theater company is “beyond excited” and “incredibly grateful” to state officials, Withers said, and plans to use the money to cover “everything from payroll to rent to general operating expenses.”
For the Academy Playhouse in Orleans, its “exciting” windfall of $42,000 from the state will help fund a variety of renovation projects as volunteers work to save the historic theater, according to board president Judy Hamer. At Wellfleet Preservation Hall, a “thrilled and very grateful” staff plans to use its $74,000 grant to keep employees working in its 10th anniversary year on both virtual and live programming.
“With incredible support from our board, our donors and (federal) PPP funds, we made it through 2020, but frankly I was worried about what this year would look like,” executive director Janet Lesniak said Wednesday.
Those were three of 17 Cape Cod and Islands organizations that together were chosen for just over $1 million, or about 10%, of the $9,960,600 state Cultural Organization Economic Recovery Grant Program. Administered by the Mass Cultural Council, in partnership with the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development, the statewide grants are part of the Baker-Polito administration’s “Partnerships for Recovery” plan during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $100,000 grant to White Heron Theatre Company on Nantucket “is extraordinarily helpful in keeping us moving forward during this very difficult time for all of us, but especially for the arts,” said Lynne Bolton, the theatre’s artistic director.
“It will mean we can open our doors again when the time is right and we can continue our educational programming and virtual programming for the community and beyond for the coming year.”
While 183 groups statewide celebrated the good financial news Wednesday, hundreds of other struggling Massachusetts cultural organizations didn’t get the help that their staff say is needed to keep doors open, programs running and staff employed.
The chosen groups represented 43% of the 424 applications the Mass Cultural Council received seeking $30.2 million, according to the council’s announcement.
“We had an overwhelming response to this program that was much greater than the amount of grant funds available, unlucky organizations were told via email this week. “As a result, we were only able to provide a fraction of the grants that were requested.”
The 183 grant recipients represent just 20% of the 898 cultural organizations whose staff had responded to earlier cultural council COVID-19 economic impact surveys saying they were in trouble, with most laying off employees, because of pandemic limitations.
The grants announced Wednesday ranged from $1,000 to $100,000, with 57 groups getting the largest amount possible.
While that included White Heron, the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, 26 of the 57 organizations that got the $100,000 grants were in Boston or Cambridge.
David Kuehn, executive director at Cotuit Center for the Arts, said Wednesday that staffers there are “perplexed to have received no relief from this program when” they “clearly met the published criteria.”
Lauren Wolk, associate director at the also-shut-out Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth, said she is happy for other deserving organizations that got much-needed money. But she believes the nearly $10 million should have been “distributed more equitably” during “this terrible time.”
“Less money for more recipients, in all regions of the Commonwealth,” she said, would have been preferable than how the money was distributed.
“We are all hurting … (and) we simply don’t understand how so many fine institutions were shut completely out of this process” with no funding at all.
“We can only assume that our programming was dismissed as irrelevant, that our extraordinary efforts to stay solvent counted for nothing, that our even greater efforts to continue to serve the community straight through the pandemic made no difference as decisions were made,” she said.
When contacted by the Times, Bethann Steiner, public affairs coordinator for the Mass Cultural Council, said in an email that state funding decisions “were made based on the program guidelines for scoring and eligibility … until the money ran out.”
She referred to the funding prioritization portion of the program guidelines, which said, in part, that preference would be given to organizations that have been unable to reopen or fully reopen; whose mission focuses on historically underrepresented and underfunded groups; that have not received aid from other federal programs related to COVID-19; that operate a cultural facility; and/or that are located in a particular type of city or town, or a district related to economic recovery.
Besides the previously mentioned grants, other local organizations on the state funding list were All Our Kids in Wellfleet ($52,000); Cape Cod Center for the Arts in Dennis ($91,000, which includes Cape Playhouse and Cape Cinema); the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival in Eastham ($58,000); the Cape Cod Chorale ($9,000); the Falmouth Community Television Corporation ($27,000); the Falmouth Historical Society ($40,000); the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum Foundation ($51,000); the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse ($77,000); the Provincetown Film Society ($76,000); the Brewster Historical Society ($14,000); and the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater ($48,000).
By Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll