Iowa City arts venues to Congress: #DoNotAbandonUs, an appeal for more COVID relief

Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 12:47 AM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - Under regular circumstances, the Iowa City nonprofit cinema FilmScene would offer at least one showing to the public 365 days a year.

This year, FilmScene hasn’t done that since mid-March.

“Normally in that time, we would’ve probably seen nearly 50,000 people come through our doors,” Andrew Sherburne, FilmScene’s co-founder and interim executive director, said. “That overall loss is definitely north of half-a-million dollars.”

A few blocks away, the cinema’s downtown neighbor, the Englert Theatre, is still undergoing major renovations, including restoring its iconic marquee.

But the Englert’s executive director, Andre Perry, said they would have still been able to host events at this point if the pandemic hadn’t forced so many artists and performers to cancel their tours.

That’s led to layoffs and major losses for them too.

“Estimating through Dec. 31, it’s going to be closer to a million dollars,” Perry said.

Both the Englert and FilmScene have joined #DoNotAbandonUs, a consortium of small businesses and cultural organizations that is demanding Congress pass a comprehensive pandemic relief bill.

Perry said another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding, or a similar measure, is what the Englert needs to keep its staff.

“There are other fixed costs that are tied to taking care of a 100-plus-year-old building, but I think it’s more about the people,” he said.

Sherburne said FilmScene, too, benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program, but like the Englert, has already used up that funding, which Sherburne said helped the organization avoid laying off its salaried staff. He said some federal legislation that has already been proposed but not voted on, like the RESTART Act and the Save our Stages Act, would specifically assist arts venues like theirs.

“We’re looking for the support of our elected officials to make sure that we can weather this storm,” Sherburne said.

Earlier Wednesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin met to negotiate a pandemic relief package. The Democratic-led House is expected in a Thursday vote to pass the $2.2-trillion HEROES Act, which would include a second round of PPP funding and relief contained in the Save Our Stages Act, but the Republican-led Senate isn’t expected to pass the bill.

“The Senate would like to be well under a trillion dollars, and there’s got to be a lot of compromise on [Pelosi’s] side, or it’ll never get through the United States Senate,” Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said on a press conference call Wednesday.

Grassley said he didn’t know if a pandemic relief bill would be passed before the House goes on recess later this week through mid-November.

“The mere fact that they’re negotiating is better news than we’ve had for two months,” he said. “I’m hopeful it can happen because there are some Americans still hurting from the government shutting down the economy back in March.”

Meanwhile, neither Iowa City organization knows when it’ll reopen and is imploring the government for more assistance until then.

“We’re going to continue to hustle and deliver to our community and keep our organization alive in the meantime, but the sooner, the better,” Perry said.

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