State legislation would help small theater groups

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Independent Staff Report

HOLLYWOOD — Hollywood stars and arts leaders gathered outside the Fountain Theatre Aug. 16 to encourage the state Assembly to approve a bill that would provide financial relief to small performing arts organizations struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate Bill 805, authored by state Sen. Susan Rubio, D-West Covina, would provide $50 million to assist performing arts organizations with annual budgets under $2 million.

The bill, which has already cleared the Senate, was expected to be heard by an Assembly committee Aug. 18, with possible approval by the full body coming later in the week.

Known as the “Save The Performing Arts Act of 2021,” SB 805 has the support of a coalition that includes 45 small theaters, seven theater leagues and six independent artists. It is the first bill in the country that will create a critical funding infrastructure to help assist small nonprofit performing arts companies.

Its provisions call for the California Arts Council to establish the California nonprofit performing arts paymaster, which will provide low-cost payroll and paymaster services to small nonprofit performing arts companies that would allow the nonprofit theater companies to pay all workers minimum wage.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who represents part of Hollywood, was among those speaking at the Aug. 16 event.

“Having worked in Los Angeles’ small theater community when I first came to Los Angeles, I understand how important these venues are to our culture and local economy,” O’Farrell said. “We must do everything we can to keep these venues afloat.”

“Small nonprofit performing arts companies have historically been undervalued and underfunded despite their contributions to the economic growth, social well-being and cultural vitality of the local communities they serve,” Rubio said. “As a public school teacher and young performer in local theater in East Los Angeles, I know how critical exposure to art is for our young people.

“These organizations are culturally rooted and are considered the onramp and incubator for new works and opportunities for emerging performers and people entering the creative performing arts industries. This funding will help preserve job opportunities for performers and people in the performing arts sector, particularly workers and artists in marginalized communities.”

The executive director of California Arts Advocates praised Rubio for authoring the legislation and steering it through the state Legislature.

“Senator Susan Rubio has emerged as one of our leading champions for the survival and sustainability of small nonprofit performing arts organizations and arts workers,” said Julie Baker. “Her passion, creativity and tireless commitment to supporting our sector deserves recognition and applause.

The executive director of Casa 0101 Theater also praised Rubio.

“This is an important first step that will help companies like Casa 0101 as we begin our re-opening efforts coming out of the pandemic,” said Emmanuel Deleage. “As a community nonprofit theater based in the predominantly Latino working class neighborhood of Boyle Heights, we would like to thank Senator Rubio.”

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