O.C. set to rollout COVID-19 relief grants for art nonprofits, small businesses

From left, in a “Polling” scene from “Lagunatics,” Marc Marger, Rob Harryman and Bree Burgess in 2019. Photo by Mitch Ridder.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misstated the budget for No Square Theater’s upcoming production of “Cry Baby.” The show’s budget is $43,000. The Independent regrets the error.

While many Laguna Beach business owners were jubilant over the state’s rollback of COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday, No Square Theatre artistic director Bree Burgess Rosen fears her nonprofit community theater could permanently fold next year without additional assistance.

The organization lost $180,000 in projected revenue due to canceled shows. Under existing state workplace rules for small performing arts centers, No Square can still only sell tickets for 46 seats—about half of a sold-out audience.

“The idea that we’re a year away from death is not a great place to be,” Rosen said. “I’ve run the company on the premise that what we show this year is based on what we raised last year.”

Rosen and other art nonprofit directors about to see some relief.

Laguna Beach arts-sector small businesses and nonprofits starting June 24 can apply for up to $20,000 taxpayer-funded grants established by Sup. Lisa Bartlett to jump-start a section of the local economy that was devastated by COVID-19 restrictions. 

The Orange County Board of Supervisors recently appropriated $5 million to help boost the region’s art sector—from this total $1 million was set aside for organizations in the Fifth Supervisor District, which includes Laguna Beach.

“They were affected to a very great extent and we wanted to do something that was meaningful and impactful,” Bartlett told the Independent. “We have a lot of those in my district—that I’m very proud of—and I wanted a robust grant program so those kinds of affected arts programs could apply.”

Bartlett has had season tickets to the Pageant of the Masters and Festival of Arts for 20 years; she also enjoys attending concerts in the various cities within her district.

The arts can play a role in the community’s emotional recovery from COVID-19 deaths, she said.

“It’s devastating when people have lost a family one during the pandemic,” Bartlett said. “I think that the arts, in general, can provide something that is positive and uplifting. So having those businesses get restarted will be a great thing.”

Art-related nonprofits and small businesses will be eligible for funds provided they have less than 26 employees and if they were in operation on or before Feb 15, 2020. Independent contractors and sole proprietors in the arts sector are also eligible but funds cannot be used for salary, lost profits, or lost income.

Small art businesses like galleries can apply for between $5,000 to $12,000 based on the number of full-time equivalent employees.

When asked how receiving a $5,000 county-funded grant would impact his business, Forest & Ocean Gallery owner Ludo Leidertiz said, “anything right now would be terrific.”

Likewise, nonprofits can apply for between $5,000 and $20,000 and will be awarded grants based on their annual organizational revenue. Rosen said $5,000 would make a difference to No Square.

“That’s a proverbial drop in the bucket,” she said. “It’s a large drop and certainly better than nothing. That’s not even the cost of one show.”

In the last round of COVID-19 stimulus grants, many Orange County nonprofits didn’t receive funding because they employ a relatively low number of full-time employees. County officials hope that switching to revenue-based applications will fix this hiccup.

No Square’s Board of Directors recently approved a slimmed-down $320,000 budget for the upcoming year, which includes a $43,000 production of “Cry Baby,” a doo-whop show written by creators of “HairSpray.” A $5,000 grant, for example, would cover the cost of live musicians, Rosen said. This show is slated to premiere on July 23.

“The perception is that we do musicals for rich people and that’s not the case,” she said. “It’s something we’ve battled with since I started the company.”

(left) Ron Garrett, CEO and founder of AlertTheGlobe.com, and Rick Conkey, director of the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center, at the organization’s Forest Avenue location. Photo courtesy of Rick Conkey

During the pandemic, the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center was forced to get resourceful after restrictions forced the closure of its Forest Avenue venue, center director Rick Conkey said. A $5,000 grant would assist with the purchase of cameras for a community arts television program, seating, and lighting.

“All civilizations throughout time, have been judged by the arts,” Conkey said. “The arts can be much more than pretty pictures and aesthetics. It’s something for the soul.”

The application will launch at 9 a.m. on June 24 at charitableventuresoc.org/artsreliefd5.

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