Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Three area arts and entertainment organizations got some much needed relief in the form of federal grants at the beginning of August.
Shuttered Venue Operators Grants, administered by the Small Business Administration, were awarded to the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Association, the Midwest Central Railroad and the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center.
The Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Association received a grant of $677,687, while the Midwest Central Railroad received $109,849. The Fairfield Arts & Convention Center received $208,604.
The organizations’ leaders all agreed that the grants give them some breathing room.
“One of the few places in Iowa where you can experience the sights and smells of history coming alive, the Midwest Central Railroad ended 2020 with no sources of income and mounting debt,” Midwest Central Railroad CEO Matt Crull said. “As a result of this grant, our organization is able to move the needle forward and continue to provide one of the finest example of steam railroading right here in Southeast Iowa.”
Midwest Old Threshers CEO Terry McWilliams said that the grants provide a lifeline to entertainment venues and museums “to keep the heat and lights on, the staff employed and the ability to weather the pandemic.”
“Old Threshers understands the impact our events contribute to tourism and the entertainment industry in Henry County and Southeast Iowa,” McWilliams said. “We are grateful for this grant to our association by partially alleviating the loss of revenue from 2020.”
McWilliams said that the two organizations lost more than a combined $1 million revenue due to having to cancel its major events last year.
He said that they had to cut costs wherever they could in order to make it through the pandemic.
“We put off a lot of things we were going to do, a lot of projects,” McWilliams said. “We got some support from individuals who always donate to Old Threshers yearly. People were more generous than normal.”
Crull said that going through the grant process was a challenge.
“The whole process was incredibly painful,” Crull said. “There were things within the application process that were not clearly explained.
“We had one little typo that wasn’t clearly explained how to put it in that delayed our disbursement for three weeks until we got it all straightened out.”
Lindsay Bauer, executive director of the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, had a similar experience with the process.
“It was an interesting process to try to apply for,” Bauer said. “Everything was delayed and delayed and delayed. Then, notifications were delayed. It was all anyone was talking about in the arts industry.”
She said that the pandemic delivered a strong blow to the arts and entertainment industry.
“We were the first to close and the last to reopen,” Bauer said. “The ripple effects are still there. We are still having to cancel events and having to postpone and refund tickets as this continues to drag on.
“Being able to count on that support that is specifically going toward making sure that we can pay our staff and continue to operate at a healthy level is absolutely a lifesaver for us.”
She said that the organization lost nearly $500,000 in revenue due the pandemic and that the grant will help make up some of those losses.
“We’re not worried that we’re not able to invest in an artist or an event,” Bauer said. “It gives us the confidence to move forward.
“We don’t have to be quite as risk averse. We don’t have to go into emergency mode.”