RED WING -- During a global pandemic not everything is going to run as smoothly as desired. The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program is one example of an entity created to aid organizations during the pandemic that has fallen short of its goal. 

U.S. Rep. Angie Craig visited the Sheldon Theater on Thursday, July 8, as the theater is one of many Minnesota organizations that applied for and still awaits a Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.

In June, Craig and more than 200 of her colleagues in the House sent a letter to the Small Business Administration to “expedite the release of funds to beneficiaries of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.” The letter also noted:

“The rollout of this program and the release of funds is of great concern to us and many of our constituents. In addition to the initial crash of the application portal on April 8 and delay of the opening to April 28th, there has been a significant delay in the processing of applicants and awarding of funds.”

The letter was sent on June 16. As of June 14, the Small Business Administration had approved only 411 grants of the over 14,000 applications submitted.

On Thursday, Craig met with Sheldon Theatre Executive Director Jeff Larson, Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michelle Larson and Laura Aadalen, who works in member service with the chamber. 

Jeff Larson told Craig that the Sheldon could qualify for $320,000 from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. He explained there are a few ways the theater could use the funding, depending on what is allowed by the SBA.

He mentioned that he hopes to rebuild a cushion for the theater so he doesn’t have to worry about being able to pay staff. He also stated that there are a few improvements to the building that grant dollars could possibly go toward, including the installation of accessible faucets in all the theater’s bathrooms. 

While most venues that applied for the grant have yet to receive funding, the Sheldon Theatre is lower on the SBA’s priority list because the facility is owned by the city. 

Angie Craig visits Sheldon Theatre

Despite delays in possible future funding, Jeff Larson understands that this is a unique challenge for the Small Business Administration. 

“I am very much trying to remember that the people at the SBA don’t do stuff like this, and they were thrown this program,” he said.

Ultimately the Sheldon Theatre is doing well compared to many venues across the country. 

The letter to the SBA stated, “We are hearing from venue operators who are days away from closing their doors if these funds are not sent soon. These small businesses not only provide good jobs and contribute economically to our local communities, they contribute to the spirit and local culture as well. We must act now.”

One reason that the Sheldon is doing well -- comparatively -- is that staff worked to stay ready.

Jeff Larson told Craig, “I always thought, ‘this thing can’t go on for six more weeks,’ and you know, the great thing about being optimistic is eventually you’ll be right.” 

While many live shows were canceled or postponed, the Sheldon was able to bring art to the community virtually. 

Now, the theater has a full 2021-2022 season and people are responding. 

“We’re setting ticket sales records so far for season tickets,” he said. 

Before Craig left, Jeff Larson and Michelle Larson emphasized that the Sheldon Theatre’s importance in the community goes beyond the art that it brings to the city. Michelle Larson explained that when people come to Red Wing for a performance they also visit local restaurants and shops. She added, “Red Wing has an amazing art community, so I think building on that is what Red Wing should do because that’s what people love about Red Wing.”

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