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Live Entertainment Venues In Gainesville, Ocala Seeking Grants To Make It Through The Pandemic

Bohemian Sunshine, a local band, stands in The Bull in Downtown Gainesville on Thursday, March 18, 2021. The band is applying for the MusicGNV Recording Grant. (Lauren Witte/WUFT News)
Bohemian Sunshine, a local band, stands in The Bull in Downtown Gainesville on Thursday, March 18, 2021. The band is applying for the MusicGNV Recording Grant. (Lauren Witte/WUFT News)

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville employed 44 people, including both part- and full-time staff.

Now, the theater employs only 12, said Stephanie Lynge, its artistic director.

Fortunately for the Hippodrome and other live venue operators, a grant application process beginning April 8 could be the lifeline they have been waiting for.

“This money is what stands between many of us and closing our doors,” Lynge said.

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant includes over $16 billion for entertainment organizations who were financially affected by the pandemic. The grant was written into law as a part of the federal Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act and will be distributed by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Disaster Assistance.

Eligible operators include live performing arts organizations; live music venues and promoters; some museum, zoos and aquariums; motion picture theaters, and talent representatives, according to the grant’s webpage. Applicants must demonstrate a loss of at least 25 percent of their gross revenue when comparing a quarter in 2020 to the same quarter in 2019.

The Hippodrome was able to keep its full-time staff employed with a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, but that money ran out in June. The 12 still employed are part-time but with full health insurance, which was important to management, Lynge said. The grant would allow the theater to hire more people to help it prepare for a more extensive reopening.

At the High Dive in Gainesville, Pat Lavery, the facilities and event manager, said he plans to apply for the SBA grant as well. The live music venue shut down for six months after the pandemic ensued. No revenue came then, but the rent and other bills were due, Lavery said.

“No amount of grants that we received made up for the amount of bills we had coming in,” he said.

The High Dive had to go into debt, lay off staff, cancel services such as cable TV and start sharing garbage services with its neighbor, Five Star Pizza.

“You make lots of sacrifices in this situation, just to get by, and you’re still losing money,” Lavery said.

The grant, which provides 45% of the applicant’s 2019 gross revenue up to $10 million, would allow the High Dive and other venues like it to catch up on old bills and pay future bills.

“You have to make it last for almost two years,” Lavery said.

He added: “So, if you do the math, it becomes difficult even then.”

The Reilly Arts Center in Ocala is an entertainment venue that hosts performers and even the Ocala Symphony Orchestra. The center’s executive director, Pamela Calero Wardell, said the grant would help pay for staffing, operating costs, utilities and programming.

“We have to have programming, you know, that people are going to want to come back to,” Wardell said.

The center hopes to open more extensively in the fall, by which time its $4.2 million renovation will be completed, she said.

Artists have also had to adapt to the changing entertainment scene during the pandemic.

About one year ago, Gainesville native Brandon Telg, 31, co-founded MusicGNV to support the music scene, particularly artists, in the city. MusicGNV has announced that it is launching a quarterly recording grant process, with the first cycle’s applications due Wednesday.

That grant support would allow artists to record four or five songs during a weekend – a compressed timeframe – as well as a high quality video of one of the songs being performed in the studio, along with photos from the recording session, Telg said.

Telg hopes newer artists with little recording experience will apply. One such band is Bohemian Sunshine. A year ago, Jared and Rachel Hart started writing songs about their experiences during the pandemic, as well as the state of the nation, including politics and the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed in an apparent hate crime in Georgia.

“If we can write some songs about what we’re all going through and with some eternal truths,” Jared Hart said, “maybe we can help some other people get through.”

The band has been wanting to record its music since early last summer, when people started asking where they could listen to its music.

“Well, you can go to our Facebook and watch the videos we posted, I guess, but it’s a lot different than driving in your car, streaming it on Spotify,” Jared Hart said.

If Bohemian Sunshine is chosen for the first grant, it will eliminate the financial barrier and the excuse of not having enough time to record an EP.

“Recording music was pretty low on the list of priorities …” Rachel Hart said.

During the pandemic, the band has been participating in the virtual Open Mic nights hosted by The Bull in downtown Gainesville.

Jared Hart said a man who had recently moved to the city participated in an in-person Open Mic night at The Bull this month and played three new songs. After that man had left, Jared Hart realized he did not know the man’s name or if he had recorded his music.

“I don’t know like that I’m ever going to hear those songs again,” Hart said.

Situations like that are why Hart thinks the MusicGNV recording grant is important.

“I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to keep the music scene thriving in Gainesville, and do their part to make sure that those diamonds in the rough are found and put up on display,” he said.

Lauren is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing