What do you do when the Covid-19 pandemic literally shuts down your whole operation?
You get creative and pivot to an operation where you are staying relevant while fulfilling your mission. This is the situation faced by the Center for the Arts of Homer - and the approach they took to deal with that trying business period.
The Center for the Arts of Homer, situated on Main Street in historic Homer, is one of Central New York's preeminent presenters of the arts. Located in what had been the First Baptist Church of Homer, until they outgrew it after 200 years, it came into being when a small group of neighbors came together in the facility in 2001. The Center, with its 400-seat "Whiting Theater" and 325-seat Karen Sager Community Room, presents a diverse series of main-stage programs and performances by artists of global, national and regional repute. The Center also features film screenings, a community theater program (Center Players) and showcases artwork by regional, national, and international visual artists in its art gallery. Additionally, the 34,000-square-foot Center hosts a variety of classes, workshops, and programs throughout the year.
In March 2020, all events came to a screeching halt with the Covid-19 shutdown.
The Center for the Arts of Homer has the mission of serving the community and providing arts and cultural events that enhance the lives of the audience it serves, according to Ty Marshal, Executive Director. The pandemic challenged that mission severely, so Ty and his small staff decided to meet it head-on.
Determined to keep the Center active, the staff of seven continued to work on a reduced, often remote basis, organizing programming to adapt to the times. This was, of course, a significant challenge without live audiences or steady ticket revenue. They hung art in the windows of businesses on Main Streets of Homer and Cortland for pedestrians to enjoy - and to hold onto their awareness of the Center. The staff organized a 24-hour Live Telethon online around the holidays, collaborating with twelve other Cortland County not-for-profits to raise funds, resulting in 24,000 of badly-needed revenue that was divided among the groups. They also staged the state's first Concert-in-a-Car at the county's Dwyer Park, and held a series of Parking Lot Concerts headlined with local and regional talent. The Center created several other community-serving programs and projects. Resilience was evident in everything they tackled during these though times.
But where would the revenue come from to continue even this very low level of activity?
The Center Development Officer, Joe Cortese, contacted the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Onondaga Community College to learn more about the CARES Act (which implemented a variety of financial programs to address issues related to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic) passes by Congress on March 25, 2020. Most prominent - and critical - for the Center initially were the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program and the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan.
Paul Brooks, NYS Certified Business Advisor at the SBDC, assisted Cortese to become antiquated with the programs and to complete the necessary applications. Ty Marshal said, "until those PPP loans became available, which have now been forgiven, we were dependent on our small reserves, but the PPP allowed us to keep our staff of seven people on the payroll and full employed, and that was a profound impact."
Making up for lost revenue for an organization like the Center for the Arts in Homer has been a major task, of course, with over 35$ of annual revenue coming from concert ticket sales. But major donor and sponsors, along with the community at large, came through in a very generous way. And so did the SBA.
With the passage by Congress of the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and and Venues Act in December 2020, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program was created. The SVOG created $15 billion in grants to shuttered venues, administered by the SBA's Office of Disaster Assistance.
Once again, the Center turned to their SBDC Advisor to navigate the somewhat-complex application process. The result was a game-changer grant award, which substantially made-up for their lost revenue of their shut-down period. This grant has allowed the Center to continue their youth art classes this summer and to program a full schedule of performances and presentations for the 2021 - 2022 season. It kept the lights on, and then some!
Executive Director Marshal, reflecting on the past year, said, "We are extraordinarily grateful to all that have helped us through this period including the generous community, our loyal staff, and the Federal grant opportunities that allowed us to continue. We will be presenting a full schedule of performances this year, emphasizing the CDC and local Covid-19 guidelines to serve our community in the best way possible."
Article published in the CNY Business Journal on September 3, 2021.
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