ANNAPOLIS – Maryland is giving away $ 10 million to entertainment venues across the state struggling during the pandemic, including the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Maryland Theater, and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, among others.

The money will help stabilize companies that had to shut down or drastically reduce capacity as COVID-19 rose through Maryland last year.

As the state begins to recover from the pandemic, this money will also help the venues prepare for the busier fall season, said Nicholas Cohen, executive director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts.

“The art season is a little quiet in the summer. It’s coming back in the fall,” Cohen said. “What this does is it makes these venues float until then to really say, ‘Here we are, we’re back, we may be almost at full capacity.'”

The additional $ 10 million in government grants will go to more than 60 venues and organizations in Maryland. Delmarva Shorebirds, the Low-A subsidiary of Baltimore Orioles based in Salisbury, will receive $ 244,716 through the grant program.

The Shorebirds entered the field for the first time since 2019 in May.

Several Washington County organizations will also benefit:

  • Suite 710, a Hagerstown venue: $ 28,162
  • Washington County Playhouse: $ 247,039
  • Potomac Playmaker: $ 9,852
  • The Maryland Theater: $ 238,985
  • Maryland Symphony Orchestra: $ 113,638

For the Potomac playmakers, the money will help maintain the group’s new home, which volunteer scholar Greg Berezuk moved into just before the pandemic brought everything to a standstill.

The building at 17303 W. Washington St. west of Hagerstown can accommodate around 130 people.

“We got in there just before COVID. It’s a wonderful way for an audience to enjoy a live performance and we couldn’t use it, ”said Berezuk.

Fixed costs like mortgage and utilities would have to be paid even if the group couldn’t put on shows, he said.

According to Berezuk, the purely voluntary playmakers have been around for almost 100 years.

He said the organization was able to “hobble along” through 2020 and early 2021, with a very restricted audience admitted in the fall and generous donations from sponsors filling in the gaps.

Berezuk said the opening of the Playmakers’ show “Farce of Habit” on July 9th will mark the first time the group’s new home has been at full capacity.

Shawn Martin, who co-owns and co-produces the Washington County Playhouse with his wife Laura Martin, said in an email Thursday that the Dinner Theater at 44 N. Potomac St. in Hagerstown would be open for about eight months in 2020 was closed.

Even when the store reopened in November, Martin said it was limited to 50% capacity, including staff and dedicated actors.

The closure, capacity constraints and lack of demand due to COVID restrictions made it impossible to cover business costs, he said.

“The grant money will not cure us, but it will replace some of The Playhouse’s lost revenue,” said Martin.

The past 15 months have been “devastating” for The Playhouse, other entertainment venues, and for Martin and his wife, who also suffered personal losses.

Martin said they were supported by “a very large and loyal customer base and loyal and trustworthy staff”.

The Playhouse, which opened in 1985, currently hosts dinner shows mostly on Friday and Saturday nights with select Sunday matinees.

According to Martin, the 2022 season with musicals and summer camps will be announced shortly.

Robbie Soto, general manager of Suite 710, said the store had taken “some decent hits” as the nightclub and attached bowling alley closed completely from March to late June 2020

Soto said all of the staff should be fired.

When the restrictions were lifted, new staff were hired and the events slowly returned to the nightclub on Leitersburg Pike near Longmeadow Shopping Center.

Soto said the locally owned company totaled an estimated $ 300,000, so it was very welcome to get about 10% from the state.

“Anything is better than nothing,” he said. “That will really help us to be overtaken again.”

Soto said Suite 710 was “one of the lucky ones” to survive the shutdown and is working on booking events and bands to rebuild the decades-old entertainment business.

Photo by One Room Media Music Director Elizabeth Schulze directs the Maryland Symphony Orchestra during its September 17 concert at the Maryland Theater in downtown Hagerstown.

“A lot of support”

The new $ 10 million in grants is in addition to the $ 30 million the state granted earlier this year.

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra, the Maryland Theater, and the Washington County Playhouse also received substantial scholarships during this award round.

Maryland Theater executive director Jessica Green said the new funding was higher than she expected and “greatly appreciated”.

“Reg. Hogan and his leadership group have shown a lot of support for our industry, ”she said.

The theater at 21 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown is 100% busy and is hosting 35 events in May and 12 last week, according to Green.

She said it was exciting to have people in the theater again and that the shows sold out “incredibly quickly”.

While fall bookings are already picking up, summer is a notoriously slow season for live venues like the Maryland Theater.

“People want to be out,” she said, adding that the new funding is “being used well”.

Green said the theater is also waiting to hear about his application with the state’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, which includes more than $ 16 billion in grants for facilities shut down during the pandemic.

“Devastating Losses”

On the Lower Shore, several venues and organizers benefited in the first round:

  • National Fair: $ 72,707
  • Flagship Premium Cinemas Ocean City: $ 484,256
  • Fox Gold Coast Theater: $ 213,073
  • Special Event Productions: $ 72,638
  • Sun and Surf Cinema: $ 484,256

Grants have helped the entertainment and arts industries “overcome devastating losses in programming and revenue,” said Steven Skerritt-Davis, associate director of the Maryland State Arts Council.

“The sector responded with distinctive creativity and innovation and quickly turned to offer online content, virtual arts events, and secure in-person events and projects whenever possible,” said Skerritt-Davis.

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The State Arts Council provided more than $ 12 million in grants from state funds and the National Endowment for the Arts during the pandemic.

There were some challenges with the emergency funding procedures. U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Wrote a letter to the Small Business Association this week with dozens of Senate colleagues urging them to distribute federal grants to live venues faster.

“It has been nearly six months since Congress passed the Save our Stages Act, nearly two months since the program started twice, and 51 days since the Small Business Administration began receiving applications,” the letter said . “We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that the funds are distributed to qualified applicants.”

The letter blamed bureaucratic delays for the slowdown in the distribution of grant funds, even though businesses continued to struggle.

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However, Cohen, the executive director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, worries more than about venues about artists and performers, many of whom lost their jobs when the pandemic resulted in major plant closures.

“I think the response has been really appropriate for venues,” he said. “I think they’re on a lot more solid ground than we thought they would enter the post-pandemic, but I think the key to that is how will venues survive when artists have to leave the field? “

He points to the impending loss of the federal pandemic unemployment benefit, which has been a major boost to the self-employed and gig workers.

Governor Larry Hogan announced in early June that Maryland would get out of federal unemployment programs on July 3 and cut the extra money two months earlier than expected.

That means no additional $ 300 per week for people with traditional unemployment and no help at all for non-traditional workers who became unemployed as an emergency measure during the pandemic.

If artists leave the industry because they cannot afford to survive, the venues that benefited from emergency grants could face new challenges in finding talent after a busy year.

“We always think of these huge venues and events,” Cohen said. “Why are you coming? You are coming because of the entertainers, the artists.”

Cohen hopes the state will find new ways to support artists.

The State Arts Council has also worked to help artists support themselves. The organization has organized more than 260 training events with nearly 10,000 attendees, Skerritt-Davis said.

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MSAC is also developing an Independent Artist Network employment initiative aimed at connecting artists with employers, he said.

Cohen also hopes that some of the venues used during the pandemic remain relevant and could help artists reach more people as the state reopens.

“The upside of this is that the venues have learned that they can improve access by thinking about things that are personal but also virtual,” Cohen said. “There’s a duality here to give people both that personal experience and a really robust virtual experience.”

Madeleine O’Neill covers the Maryland State House and state issues for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at moneill@gannett.com or on Twitter @maddioneill.

Herald Mail employee Alexis Fitzpatrick contributed to this story.