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Emergency state funding sought to help performing arts centers weather pandemic

Performing arts center directors and the mayors of six cities across the state are working in tandem to seek emergency state funding to ensure the institutions financially weather the pandemic and are still around when it's safe to reopen.  

The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments is backing their effort in recognition of the Garde Arts Center in New London as a regional asset that will help spur the region's economic recovery after the pandemic.

The council unanimously voted to send a letter to Gov. Ned Lamont in support of the initiative to seek a $10 million state loan or grant to be distributed among six performing arts centers in New London, New Haven, Hartford, Waterbury, Stamford and Torrington.

The funding would “provide the necessary liquidity to sustain minimal operations through July 2021 and prevent bankruptcy or dissolution, so that these critical institutions will be around when it’s time to reopen,” the letter says.

SCCOG recognized the “importance of the Garde Arts Center, Southeastern Connecticut’s nonprofit performing arts center, an important regional catalyst for economic, social and cultural activity, which will be critical for this region’s post-pandemic recovery,” SCCOG Chairman Mark Nickerson, East Lyme’s first selectman, wrote in the letter to Lamont.

New London Mayor Michael Passero said at Wednesday's Council of Governments meeting, held virtually on Zoom, that the proposal requests the state earmark some of its coronavirus funds to provide needed cash flow for performing arts centers during the pandemic.

Garde Arts Center Executive Director Steve Sigel told the council that the performing arts centers drive the local economy, serve the arts, social service and educational communities and will be critical to the eventual post-pandemic recovery.

“We each have very large facilities that are very difficult to operate and maintain financially even in good times but when we are prohibited from making 95% of our revenue source, it’s a prescription for closure if this situation goes on,” he said.

Until a time when everybody can be equally safe at social gatherings, The Garde Arts Center is holding virtual performances, conversations with artists, and streaming films, Sigel previously told The Day. He doesn’t anticipate full occupancy until likely fall 2021, and the Garde is figuring out how to maintain itself so when the time comes, it can kick-start the economy.

“What we’re seeking is some liquidity from the state to maintain these incredible facilities and the role that they have so in the hour of need for all of our communities to revive, we are all there ready to go,” Sigel said.

“Right at the outset of the closure, all of our venues were closed and we are now facing probably being the last enterprise to reopen,” David Fay, president and chief executive officer of The Bushnell in Hartford, told the council. The performing arts centers have big physical facilities and decent-sized staff they’ve developed over the years.

“If the last expenditure is plywood to board them all up, that would set all of our cities back a long way,” he added.

Passero said the mayors in the other cities also plan to approach their respective councils of governments. They also plan to follow up with the governor and the Department of Economic and Community Development Commission.

“We’re just trying to generate as much support as possible,” Passero said. “We just think it’s so critical that these institutions survive this.”

k.drelich@theday.com

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