Walton Arts Center receives $9.8 million from government’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,118 views 

Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Barera.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program has awarded $9.8 million to the Walton Arts Center.

The grant is part of the organization’s ongoing recovery plan to limit losses incurred during the COVID-19 outbreak and prepare for the upcoming seasons at both the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville and its sister venue in Rogers, the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion (AMP).

A Walton Arts Center news release Monday (July 12) said the venue lost 90% of its budget during the year-long pandemic due to no ticket sales, concessions and event rentals. The Walton Arts Center organization was one of the first to suspend large-format performances and will be one of the last to fully re-open.

“Our board and executive team decided that rather than completely close our venues, we wanted to keep as many of our full-time staff employed as possible by staying engaged with our community and providing smaller-scale, localized programs and education services to our patrons. To do that we needed to focus on a comprehensive financial recovery plan,” Peter Lane, president and CEO of Walton Arts Center, said in a statement.

Walton Arts Center developed a three-pronged plan that included public support through the Ghost Light Recovery Fund, loans and grants from foundations and corporations, and government support through various grant and loan programs for pandemic-impacted businesses.

The financial recovery plan was focused on a 24-month period starting in March 2020 to help the organization weather the suspension and resume full-scale operations. According to the release, the organization ultimately identified the need to raise $25.5 million during that recovery period.

In 2020, the organization raised almost $6.8 million through public support, grants and loans. Walton Arts Center used the funds to present programming and support the community during the past year. The organization presented more than 300 artists, 86% of those being local or regional, and served more than 28,000 audience members.

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant will be used for payroll and benefits, to pay administrative expenses incurred last year and to provide critical funding to launch this summer’s Walmart AMP and Walton Arts Center seasons.

To complete the recovery plan, Walton Arts Center has a goal of raising $8.7 million in 2021, which is in line with its pre-pandemic donated income goals. Those funds will be used for general operations and to support mission-focused programming including the organization’s arts education and access-related programs.

“We could not have endured this year without the support of our community,” Lane said. “So many people understood that we were providing programming because it was what the community needed at the time, and it was not generating revenue for us. The belief in our mission and our organization especially in the middle of a pandemic is amazing.”

“We are extremely grateful to our Arkansas legislators and to the leadership of Senator [John] Boozman who was instrumental in supporting this bipartisan legislation in support of our Nation’s most critical arts organizations.  We hope other Arkansas arts organizations can benefit from the program and start back on their road to recovery.”

According to the SBA website, the SVOG program through June 12 has awarded 39 grants totaling $20.2 million in Arkansas. The program has awarded $5 billion to 6,610 grantees across the country.