‘Solid footing going forward’: Maryland arts and entertainment venues get millions in SBA COVID-relief grants

The Lyric, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Annapolis Shakespeare Co. and scores of other Maryland arts and entertainment venues that have struggled in the pandemic will get an infusion of tens of millions of dollars in federal grants.

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced nearly $68 million worth of grants on Thursday to venues and organizations in Baltimore, Annapolis, Columbia and elsewhere in the Baltimore region.

Scores of Baltimore-area arts and entertainment venues that have struggled in the pandemic will get tens of millions of dollars in federal SBA grants, including the Lyric, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the National Aquarium.

Those “Shuttered Venue Operators Grants” are part of more than $103 million the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance handed out in Maryland. The $16 billion federal program offered grants of 45% of 2019′s earned revenue, capped at $10 million.

However, businesses or groups that were given SBA-backed COVID relief forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program had that amount subtracted from shuttered venue grants.


The SBA opened the economic relief program April 8 to operators of live venues, live performing arts organizations, museums and movie theatres that were among the first groups and businesses forced to shut down at the start of the COVID outbreak in March 2020. Venue promoters, theatrical producers and talent representatives also were eligible for help. Grants can be used to cover costs such as payroll, rent, utilities, mortgage or debt payments.

Some of the biggest grants in Baltimore went to the National Aquarium ($10 million), The Lyric Performing Arts Center ($3.4 million), Baltimore Comedy Factory ($1.9 million), the Baltimore Soundstage ($1.8 million) and the Baltimore Symphony ($1.5 million).

Outside Baltimore, recipients of some of the larger grants included Merriweather Post Pavilion ($10 million), Fiddler Touring, a Columbia-based theatrical producer ($9.9 million), and Strathmore Hall in Bethesda (nearly $3 million).

Baltimore theaters such as the Hippodrome and The Everyman Theatre and movie theaters, including The Charles Theatre, also were funded.

The Lyric, Baltimore’s 127-year-old concert hall, had been operating at a loss for seven of the past eight years and has not been able to produce shows for the past 16 months. The Lyric faced an additional hurdle this year after a longtime donor backed out of a $300,000 pledge.

“This is a significant grant, and it will help support The Lyric going forward and bringing back employees and just preparing the building for reopening,” said Jonathan Schwartz, the Lyric’s executive director. “It puts on us on solid footing going forward.”

The hall will reopen Sept. 10 for its first show since the start of the pandemic, a concert by Grammy award-winning artist Amy Grant.

The grant will be used to pay expenses such as employees’ wages and the theater’s utility bills, Schwartz said.


The SBA grant to the Baltimore Symphony took into account a $2 million federal paycheck protection loan the organization received in that program’s second round this year.

Weekend Watch

Weekend Watch


Plan your weekend with our picks for the best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV shows and more. Delivered every Thursday.

The BSO will apply the grant to its fiscal year 2022 budget.

“We anticipate ending the 2021 fiscal year in a financial position that will help us continue to serve the citizens of Maryland,” Peter Kjome, BSO president and CEO, said in a statement Thursday.

The grant will help “our continued emergence from the pandemic,” he said, by supporting general operations, as well as guarding against revenue risk once audiences return in September.

The orchestra’s 2021-2022 season opens Sept. 11 with a concert with violinist Itzhak Perlman. Season subscriptions are available and single tickets go on sale later this summer, when detailed COVID return policies will be announced.

The National Aquarium, a key anchor and tourist attraction at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, amassed more than $20 million in losses in 2020, the nonprofit organization’s “most difficult year in its 40-year history,” John Racanelli, National Aquarium’s CEO, said in a statement Thursday.


“This $10 million grant will aid the organization’s recovery and support overall operating costs while the Aquarium continues to work diligently to overcome the financial challenges sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Racanelli said.