Helping the Tybee Post Theater survive the pandemic, the Georgia Council for the Arts has given the nonprofit a $15,000 grant, theater officials have announced.
The so-called "resiliency grant" pays for ongoing expenses by the historic theater since it closed in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic and began rescheduling dozens of concerts, movies and other entertainment for fall or next year,
It comes on top of a federal loan/grant of $24,500 that the theater received in April – also because of the pandemic. That loan which is administered U.S. Small Business Administration through its Paycheck Protection Program "is expected to be forgiven, thereby making it a grant," said theater officials in a July 9 press release.
Since the theater closed March 16, it has lost its income from ticket sales, but it still has major expenses, including about $700,000 in debt from multiple loans from First Chatham Bank, said theater executive director Melissa Turner. It also has to maintain its building, pay for utilities and employee salaries plus pay a mortgage on top of the loan payments, Turner said.
The arts council grant and the Paycheck Protection loan/grant will enable the theater to weather the damaging effects of the virus, theater officials said recently.
Asked if the theater was blessed by the arts council grant and the Paycheck Protection Program money, theater executive director Melissa Turner said, "Absolutely!" She added in the press release that "this grant is vitally important to the survival of the nonprofit Tybee Post Theater."
"I don’t think the theater will ever close down permanently," Keith Gay, president of Friends of the Tybee Theater, said. But without these funds, "I think it would close down indefinitely until funds could be created for the facility to stay open."
Turner said in an interview that she is still aggressively hunting for additional grants to bail out the theater.
Turner said in one of her weekly "updates from the executive director" on the theater’s website that 171 organizations applied for the resiliency grant and 63 were awarded grants. In the update, she added, "we are very grateful for this help during this trying time for all non-profit businesses – large and small. We hope to back stronger than ever in the coming months."
Technically, the Arts Council grant was awarded to the Friends of the Tybee Theater Inc. The council is a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. The one-time grant was funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to a July 9 press release from the council. As a state arts agency, the council was designated to distribute the resiliency grant funds from the National Endowment for the Arts to help sustain Georgia’s nonprofit arts sector, the press release said. Georgia arts organizations "comprise an industry devastated by COVID-19 and worth supporting and fighting for," said the council’s executive director Karen Paty in the news release.
The Tybee Post Theater has other sources of income besides ticket sales, Gay said. "We’re dependent on memberships and voluntary donations by Friends of the Tybee Theater…The 500 member donors are the lifeblood of the theater," he said.
He added that the theater currently has reserves of between $175,000 and $200,000.
As Turner struggles to book and re-book concerts and other events, she’s told patrons who bought tickets to now-canceled performances what they can do. In her July 17 update, she promised that "tickets already purchased will be valid for the new dates. Ticket buyers will be notified by email of the option to hold onto their tickets or seek a refund if they can’t attend on the rescheduled night."
She added in that update, "we will continue to follow developments in the spread of the virus and adhere to the recommendations of the government and our local and national health officials. And you can be assured that when your Tybee Post Theater does reopen, it will be super-sanitized and safe. This is only an intermission!"
Turner said in an interview that she had no idea the theater would close for six months because of the coronavirus and the need to protect the health and safety of patrons, artists, volunteers and staff was the impetus for shutting down.
Last week, theater officials released their plan for reopening the beleaguered theater.
"While live events and movies may not be fully returning just yet, we will be ready when they are! We’d like to share some of the new safety guidelines and changes you will see when we bring back the safe return of concerts and movies to the Tybee Post Theater," the announcement on the latest executive director’s update continued.
– Touch-free hand sanitizer stations will be available in the lobby and auditorium
– Staff and volunteers will be wearing masks and gloves
– Masks are required for all guests when not eating or drinking
– The capacity will be reduced to allow for social distancing as long as necessary
– Contactless payment options will be available at the box office and concession stand
– The theater will continue to be clean and sanitized throughout the shows
"We promise we will continue to monitor the latest guidance from local health officials as well as CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and reopen the Tybee Post Theater just as soon as we can." Turner said in that update.