Eleven Chattanooga-area venues and events receive Shuttered Venue Operator Grants

Tivoli Foundation, Riverbend Festival, Bessie Smith Cultural Center among biggest recipients

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Executive director Nick Wilkinson, left, and general manager Dave Holscher look over some of the recent updates at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The updates were done while the venue was shut down during the pandemic.

Eleven Chattanooga-area arts-related venues and events have been awarded almost $20 million from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants provided via the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Like many venues and events across the country, local, regional and state governments forced many of these businesses to close during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The largest awards went to The Tivoli Theatre Foundation, which got $8.5 million, the Tennessee Aquarium, which got about $8 million and the Riverbend Festival, which was granted almost $2 million.

Officials of both the Tivoli Foundation and Riverbend said the money will be used to cover both losses and operating costs in order to move forward.

"It's both really," said Friends of the Festival's Executive Director Mickey McCamish.

"It's money to keep the doors open and as we move forward and book acts [for 2022], you have to pay deposits for the bands."

The Tivoli Theatre Foundation oversees operations of the Tivoli, Memorial Auditorium and the Walker Theatre. Foundation Executive Director Nick Wilkinson said the money "is not even 100% of the money we lost [during the pandemic], but it is a nice way to start making that up and it is why we are able to do what we are doing now, which is hitting the ground running. We are able to hire people back and literally man the events that we have now.

"This has enabled us to get back open and do what the community expects us to do."

The Memorial has already hosted a couple of Broadway shows, symphony performances and musician Carlos Santana, among other events in recent weeks. The Tivoli and its neighbor, The Tivoli Center, will be undergoing significant remodeling after the first of the year.

Wilkinson said The Tivoli Theatre Foundation lost more than $12 million in revenue from not being able to hold events during the pandemic and it spent another $2 million to keep the buildings operational during that time.

The grant process actually started back in April and had a couple of glitches related to almost 18,000 organizations across the country trying to log on to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant website to fill out the online application for access to the $16.1 billion in federal funds made available. Applicants could apply for 45% of their losses related to the pandemic minus any money already provided through the federal Payroll Protection Program.

McCamish said the process was involved and complicated, but that Riverbend actually received a little over $1.3 million from the initial process and another $700,000 in supplemental grant money given to events that actually did not happen in 2020 and 2021. Riverbend is scheduled for June 3-5 in 2022.

Other local groups receiving Shuttered Venue Operators Grants money were:

- The Creative Discovery Museum, $702,000.

- The Comedy Catch, $379,000.

- Chattanooga Theatre Centre, $331,000.

- Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, $209,742.

- Alkahast Artists & Attractions Inc., $60,000.

- Bessie Smith Cultural Center, $43,000.

- Contemporary Performing Arts of Chattanooga, $29,146.

- Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga, $13,000.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.