Eight major Austin arts and culture organizations identified as receiving PPP loans

Ballet Austin keeps its dancers on contract. Zach Theatre received the largest loan of just over $1 million, but will not immediately re-hire furloughed staff


Publicly released data this week from the Small Business Administration (SBA) named small businesses and non-profits who received Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans, part of the $350 billion federal rescue package meant to help small businesses retain their staff in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic.

Eight major Austin arts and culture organizations were identified as receiving PPP loans: Austin Children’s Museum, Austin Film Society, Austin Opera, Ballet Austin, Contemporary Austin, the Long Center, Paramount Theatre, and Zach Theatre.

The PPP data — which was released after weeks of demands for transparency from media outlets and lawmakers — named 660,000 businesses and nonprofit organizations that received at least $150,000. PPP recipients who received less than $150,000 were designated only by zip code.

The 660,000 named businesses and nonprofit organizations only represent 15% of those who received PPP loans. Also, the data released publicly does not contain exact loan amounts and instead shows ranges.

Publicly identified Austin arts and culture receiving PPP loans are:

  • $1 million – $2 million
    Zach Theatre
  • $350,000 – $1 million
    Austin Children’s Museum
    Ballet Austin
    Contemporary Austin
    Long Center (dba Greater Austin Performing Arts Center)
    Paramount Theatre/Stateside Theatre (dba Austin Theatre Alliance)
  • $150,000 – $350,000
    Austin Film Society
    Austin Opera

Arts divisions within large public universities — such at the University of Texas’ Blanton Museum of Art, Harry Ransom Center and Texas Performing Arts — were ineligible to receive PPP loans which were aimed at private companies and non-profits.

Only Zach Theatre received a PPP loan of more than $1 million. And though in March it furloughed 75% percent of staff, or about 200 people, a representative said the theater had no immediate plans to bring staff back.

Related: ‘Zach Theatre Furloughs Majority of its Staff’

“(Zach Theatre doesn’t) want to be put into the position many others are of having to re-furlough employees weeks later,” said a press representative in an email, who confirmed that the organization had received a $1,064,800 PPP loan.

“At the moment, Zach has no clear idea when they can safely produce again, which leads to the conundrum of re-hiring staff too early, the loan eaten through too quickly and the organization not able to stay afloat. At this time, the priority for all arts organizations is survival: making sure there is an organization for those furloughed to return to on the other side of this.”

Zach Theatre is one of the larger arts organizations in Austin, and is the largest producing theater in the city. Its annual budget is about $11 million, according to its most recent publicly available IRS Form 990.

The organization’s leadership did not take furloughs though in March representatives said that both artistic director Dave Steakley and executive director Elisabeth Challener were taking unspecified salary cuts. Zach Theatre’s 990 Form lists Steakley’s salary as $188,699 and Challener’s as $171,812.

A PPP loan can be forgiven entirely if an employer spends three-quarters of it on payroll costs while maintaining pay levels and keeping all employees paid for eight weeks.

Cookie Ruiz, executive director of Ballet Austin, said that though the company had to cancel two of its productions this spring, its dancers remained employed.

“Our dancers were paid their full contracts for 2019/2020, and we anticipate the same for 2020/21,” Ruiz said. “As both exceptional artists and world-class athletes, we remain committed to our dancers’ health and the development of their careers. We will continue to provide the opportunity for our dancers to train, regardless of performance opportunities.”

Nicole Chism Griffin, director of communications for the Contemporary Austin, that the museum, which operates two locations and a community art school, has furloughed some staff. “While it was largely frontline staff who were furloughed, there are others who were furloughed as well,” she said. “All senior managers also received salary cuts.”

The PPP loans are distinct from other CARES Act money that was directed to the culture sector. Both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities received $75 million, and $50 million went to the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The NEA, the NEH and Humanities Texas, using NEH money, all recently announced their relief grant distributions.

Related: ‘NEA grants $2.2 million in CARES Act aid to Texas arts organizations’

Related: NEH awards Texas over $2 Million in CARES Act Grants

Related: Humanities Texas awards $1.1 million in NEH relief grants 

Several Austin arts and cultural nonprofits have received emergency aid from multiple federal agencies.

Austin organizations receiving multiple CARES Act grants:



Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is an arts and culture journalist who has covered visual art, performance, film, literature, architecture, and just about any combination thereof. She was the staff arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman for 17 years. Her commendations include the First Place Arts & Culture Criticism Award from the Society for Features Journalism. Additionally, Jeanne Claire has been awarded professional fellowships at USC’s Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and NEA/Columbia University Arts Journalism Institute. In 2022, she was awarded the Rabkin Prize in visual art journalism. Jeanne Claire founded and led Sightlines, a non-profit online arts and culture magazine that reached an annual readership of 600,000. And for two years, she taught arts journalism at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Architecture magazine, Dwell, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Art Papers, and ICON design magazine, among other publications.

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