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Hogan announces $10 million in relief for live performance venues

Live entertainment venues and promoters across Maryland will receive $10 million in relief funding to help offset losses amid a pandemic economy, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development will distribute the funding to more than 60 organizations across 12 counties and Baltimore City. Venues qualified if they had canceled events due to restricted capacity brought on by the pandemic, and if previous state or federal assistance hadn’t sufficiently covered their expenses. The amounts range from $1,235 to $247,039 depending on the venue.

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“These awards protect jobs and preserve important cultural institutions in Maryland communities ready to get back to normal,” Hogan said in a statement released by his office.

Recipients in Baltimore City include the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Rams Head Live, the jazz club Keystone Korner and more.

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Black Cherry Puppet Theater, a nonprofit theater located in Southwest Baltimore, was awarded $29,941. Michael Lamason, executive director and one of the founders, said the money couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

“We have pretty much gone through all our reserve funds,” Lamason said. “Some will go to salaries. But it’s mostly to keep us somewhat solvent until we start back up with our programming.”

Lamason said his theater applied for funds back in February and was awarded about half of what they applied for — which was still more than he was expecting.

“It’s never enough but frankly I have to say that what we’ve gotten, I really appreciate, I’m really grateful for,” Lamason said.

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The pandemic has dealt entertainment organizations a tough hand over the past year, with shuttered venues and canceled performances. Marissa LaRose, managing director of the Everyman Theater, previously told The Baltimore Sun that the organization lost about $700,000 in the fiscal year that ended over the 2020 summer. Maryland administered $30 million to strapped venues in January as part of the state’s economic recovery plan.

Lamason said he’s been amazed at the outpouring of public and private support for his theater, and the arts in general. He noted that people have often overlooked the arts during challenging times in the past.

“This has been probably the most severe thing that’s hit theater and performing artists, gig artists, but it’s not the first time we’ve been up against severe adversity,” Lamason said. “Anytime there’s a recession, the first thing that gets cut is the arts.”

Lamason is optimistic that the Black Cherry Theater has made it through the worst of the pandemic’s repercussions. He’s currently summer programs with schools in the area, what he calls the “bread and butter” of the theater. And he plans to fully reopen the venue in September, his performers eager to be in front of live audiences.

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