Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed Senate Bill 104, legislation that helps support small, nonprofit performing arts venues, commonly known as community theaters.
SB 104 included more than $11.5 million to fund a program set up last year in SB 1116, a bill authored by state Sen. Anthony Portantino that established the Equitable Payroll Fund to support live theater. This effort comes at a time when many small community theaters are struggling in the aftermath of the pandemic and far too many are closing.
“I am proud that California is providing needed support to small nonprofit arts organizations,” Portantino said. “Our vibrant arts community drives much of our creative economy. Despite strong community support, our neighborhood theaters have suffered from under-investment and pandemic shutdown impacts. Investment in the arts helps all generations and all neighborhoods in Californians.
“It’s critical that we find ways to sustain and enhance our creative workforce. This funding will prevent the closure of many small arts nonprofits, stem job losses, and create more sustainability. A talented and terrific group of artists, actors, directors and writers worked tirelessly to advocate for this funding over the past three years. Today, we celebrate and appreciate those efforts to keep the lights on and the curtains up.”
Prior to the pandemic, California ranked 28th in state arts funding on a per capita basis. This chronic long-term underfunding of the industry amounted to a double hit when the pandemic shut down much of the live arts. Johns Hopkins University reports that, as of October 2021, the percentage of job losses at nonprofit arts organizations remains more than three times worse than the average of all nonprofits.
“This is a critical time for everyone in the live arts, and I’m thrilled to see that California has met the moment at a perilous time for small theaters statewide,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association. “This funding is a win for everyone. It will ensure that actors, stage managers and other creative professionals are properly classified as employees — ensuring protections like workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance — while providing resources to not-for-profit theaters struggling to comply with that additional expense.
“This temporary relief will offer stability and growth potential, which will help communities of all sizes throughout the state. Live performing arts generate a halo effect that benefits nearby small businesses: restaurants, hotels and more. I am so thankful we had a champion like Sen. Portantino leading the charge for us over the last year. We look forward to building on this work in the months ahead.”
Authored by Portantino and signed into law by Newsom last year, SB 1116 established the Equitable Payroll Fund, a grant program designed to support live performances — and workers — by providing substantial reimbursements of payroll expenses. The program will support jobs for anyone hired as an employee by a SNPAO, including both production and non-production employees and administrative staff.
Martha Demson, president of the Theatre Producers of Southern California, said the trade association is “thrilled” the funding has been secured through SB 1116.
“We believe this represents a critical step toward rebuilding sustainability for California’s small nonprofit performing arts organizations, and for expanding job opportunities for thousands of underemployed creative workers in the sector,” Demson said. “We want to thank Sen. Portantino for championing our cause over the past two years, and for his stalwart efforts in seeking to repurpose unexpended funds from earlier relief grant programs. We also want to express our gratitude to Gov. Newsom for keeping these much-needed dollars in the performing arts.
“As we look to advance our work further in the months to come, we want to acknowledge the extraordinary contributions of Actors’ Equity Association in their unwavering dedication to our efforts together, the generous support of our partners at Californians for the Arts and Arts for LA, and the entire SB 1116 coalition that never wavered in its purpose or advocacy.”
First published in the September 23 print issue of the Burbank Leader.