‘Lights are turning back on:’ Federal aid allows local groups to keep doors open

First round of funding brought $18 million to Dayton region.



U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and local arts leaders on Tuesday touted the impact of millions of dollars in federal arts grants that local organizations received to help them survive the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brown co-sponsored the Save Our Stages legislation that established the Shuttered Venue Operator Grants grants, which helped local cultural and entertainment small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic and reopen. The program, passed last December and expanded by way of the American Rescue Plan this spring, awarded nearly 400 Ohio venues more than $300 million infunding.

Ohio ranked ninth for most amount of money received.

“One of the goals we had in the Senate was to make sure (arts) organizations can continue,” Brown said during the event at the Dayton Arcade Rotunda.

“Save Our Stages mattered for the artists themselves and especially for the communities in keeping these art traditions going,” Brown said. “For cities the size of Dayton to have this quality of art, performing art, music and museums is really phenomenal.”

He also stressed the importance of vaccinations in reopening venues.

Culture Works President and CEO Lisa Hanson said 39 Dayton region arts venues received more than $18 million through the first round of the SVOG program. Dayton Live, which operates and maintains the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, Victoria Theatre, the PNC Arts Annex, and Metropolitan Arts Center, received nearly $10 million of total funding.

“On behalf of the arts in the Dayton region, we offer a sincere thank you to Senator Brown and to all elected officials and individuals who supported the distribution of the Shuttered Venue Operator Grants,” Hanson said. “It took a bit more than a village this time, and we are grateful to live in Ohio where the importance of the arts to our economy and our lives is shared.”

She said it is thrilling that “stage lights are turning back on and there is once again a flurry of creative expression that stimulates our souls and our connection to one another.”

The Dayton Performing Arts Alliance, consisting of Dayton Ballet, Dayton Opera and Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, recently received nearly $1.2 million in SVOG funds. Organizers plan to use the funds for the 2021-22 season, which launched full-scale earlier this month with a DPO concert dedicated to essential workers. The DPAA remains the nation’s first and only combined company producing ballet, opera and orchestral music.

“Despite the pandemic, Dayton Ballet, Dayton Opera and Dayton Philharmonic are still here as Dayton’s largest performing arts organization thanks to the tenacity of our artists, staff, volunteers, audience, donors and the Shuttered Venue Operator Grants program,” said DPO artistic director and conductor Neal Gittleman.

He called the federal grants “a lifesaver” for the alliance and said it will probably take two to three years for the DPAA to fully rebuild its audience and ticket sales following the pandemic’s “disastrous hit.”

“Last season, many ballet companies, opera companies and orchestras, some in much bigger cities than Dayton, were idle,” Gittleman said. “But we at the DPAA were able to serve our audience with streaming presentations in the fall plus a reduced lineup of ballets, operas and concerts in the winter and spring performed for small, live audiences and also streamed to folks watching and listening from home.”

Isaac Jones, in his fifth season as a Dayton Ballet company dancer, also spoke.

“I’m incredibly excited for us to be back with a full season,” Jones said. “As an artist, the last year has been incredibly challenging. The SVOG grant allows us to continue creating high quality art in a city we truly love.”

Dayton Ballet opens its season Oct. 29-31 with “Light and Dark” at the Victoria Theatre.

“Families are again bringing their kids to the ballet, parents are having a night out at a show again – it’s what we’ve pined for and waited on for a long time,” Brown said. “These arts organizations are about the dancers and performers, but they’re also about the communities, the workers, the local businesses and the whole Dayton economy, which is essential to what we tried to do in the American Rescue Plan. You can’t have a thriving, vibrant Dayton, Miami Valley or country without the arts.”

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