Recently, Wesley Ziegler, who works in e-commerce and user experience design and is the conference director for Outdoor Media Summit, messaged me on LinkedIn with this question: “Do you happen to know if the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) in the recently passed American Rescue Plan is open to conference and event promoters? There are quite a few of us in the industry wondering if we should apply.”
I searched online for a definitive answer and found an article on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website that seemed to indicate that was the case. Businesses that generally qualify, the site said, include live venue operators or promoters, as well as theatrical producers, live performing arts organization operators, museum operators, zoos, and aquariums that meet specific criteria, motion picture operators, and talent representatives.
That “generally” part was less than definitive, so I reached out to David Audrain, CEO/executive director of the Society of Independent Show Operators (SISO) and co-president of the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA). ECA is dedicated to the recovery and advancement of the face-to-face business events industry by “creating substantive relationships with policymakers and ensuring priority matters are heard.”
Audrain responded to my email question within minutes. “I’m afraid that the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program was very narrowly defined to only allow targeted businesses to apply, and they excluded exhibition and conference organizers,” Audrain wrote. He copied in Tommy Goodwin, ECA’s head of government affairs, to provide more details and background “on the great effort the industry has made to try to gain access (unsuccessfully to date) to the SVOG.”
Goodwin let me know in a follow-up email that there have been several “efforts on Capitol Hill to find a pathway for some in the business events community to gain eligibility in the future, but those,” he said, “have not been successful … and even if they were, our community would likely not be eligible to apply for some time.”
Goodwin assured me that ECA will continue to keep its finger on the pulse of the program and support efforts to broaden eligibility.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.