OCP awarded Shuttered Venue Grant funds

OGDENSBURG — Local theater organization Ogdensburg Command Performances has been awarded $105,000 through the national Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.

The money represents the largest single grant for OCP in the organization’s 58-year history and will help offset significant losses incurred during last year’s national pandemic shutdown. The OCP award is rooted in the much larger coronavirus relief package passed by Congress in December of 2020. That legislation directed some $16 billion in federal funding be available to concert halls and theaters forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, or SVOG program, was seen as a lifeline to artists and business owners nationwide, who warned that without government help, live entertainment might not survive after the pandemic ended.

Ogdensburg Command Performances was no exception to that national narrative, and for more than a year was forced to endure the full brunt of the pandemic’s economic shutdown, according to Sally F. Palao, the not-for-profit’s long-serving administrator.

“We took a big financial hit over the past 15 months because we were not presenting at all,” said Mrs. Palao. “In every nuance of the word, our venue was completely ‘shuttered.’”

Mrs. Palao said the process of applying for the federal money was a daunting task, and one that was seen by many as a longshot. She said the SVOG application required compilation of numerous documents and complex financial records. In addition, there were technical glitches along the way.

“This recognition validates OCP nationally and reinforces the importance of what we’ve been doing at the local level in this community for almost 60 years,” Mrs. Palao said. On a personal level, I feel this is something the community can take great pride in, especially our dedicated team of volunteers, the Ogdensburg City School District, our ticket buyers, and donors.

She added, “Keep in mind that in order to receive this money we were competing with major performing arts venues across the country in places like New York City, Las Vegas, and Branson, Missouri.”

While the money being awarded to OCP is a sizeable grant that will be used to offset losses to the organization, Mrs. Palao, said it represents only about a third of OCP’s annual budget.

“This is much needed money, but obviously it represents just a portion of our overall budget of more than $300,000,” she said. “During the 15 months we were shuttered we used much of our savings to remain solvent. This funding allows us to help replenish that loss moving forward.”

Mrs. Palao said it is important that OCP supporters realize that in the season ahead their support will continue to be greatly needed.

“The sale of tickets and ongoing donations are going to be paramount for the success of the 2021-22 season,” she said. “Because part of our mission is to keep professional live theater affordable, our ticket prices only cover a small portion of our expenses. That means that even during a typical year we must depend heavily on outside funding to remain solvent.”

Mrs. Palao said, “I do in fact believe that 2021-22 may be a make-or-break season as we approach our 60th year in 2023,” she said. “We survived a terrible year during the pandemic, but now we need continued support from our loyal ticket buyers and generous donors more than ever.”

According to the latest data available from the Small Business Administration, a total of 14,416 venues applied for SVOG relief funds, totaling $11.6 billion worth of requests. At the end of June just over 4,000 venues had received grant notification for a combined amount of roughly $5.8 billion, according to the SBA.

Under the SVOG program, businesses could apply for grants equal to 45 percent of their gross earned revenue for 2019 - up to $10 million.

Mrs. Palao said navigating the application process was difficult to say the least, but well worth the effort.

“It would have been difficult to survive another rough year because we depleted so much of our savings,” she said. “This grant really is a blessing that gives this Ogdensburg-based not-for-profit the ability to continue bringing affordable professional theater to this beautiful remote part of New York state.”

She added, “Ogdensburg Command Performances has been changing lives and opening the eyes of people in this region, one performance at a time, for nearly 60 years. That’s a legacy this community can be proud of and one we want to continue long into the future.”

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