Analysis by WorldTribune Staff, August 24, 2023
It seems appropriate, observers say, that R&B artist Chris Brown has a song titled “Gimme That” since he received $10 million of taxpayer money via a U.S. government Covid relief grant.
Brown, who has an estimated net worth of $50 million, is one of many of the nation’s wealthiest musicians who received relief grants under a program meant to help struggling arts groups recover from the pandemic, a report said.
The federal Covid relief program was so poorly managed that hundreds of millions of dollars wound up in the hands of wealthy entertainers who didn’t need the money, according to an Insider investigation.
The musicians were beneficiaries of the federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, which was launched in 2021.
The program “was a lifeline for the live-entertainment business. Administered by the Small Business Administration, it doled out $14.5 billion to institutions like movie theaters, ballets, operas, talent agents, performing-arts venues, and museums. Unlike the Paycheck Protection Program, which many venues didn’t qualify for, the Shuttered Venue program was a grant, not a loan. Qualified applicants were eligible for up to $10 million with no obligation to repay it,” Katherine Long and Jack Newsham wrote for Insider.com on Aug. 11.
The report detailed how Austin Richard Post, better known as the “Sunflower” singer Post Malone, successfully applied for a $10 million grant from the taxpayer-funded federal program.
In 2021, while many of his colleagues in the entertainment-industry were struggling under “pandemic-era lockdowns that decimated live music in the U.S., Post bought a 9,000-square-foot ski chalet in Park City, Utah, which had been listed for $11.5 million, in an all-cash transaction that February,” the report said. “By May, he’d bought an industrial space in a Salt Lake City suburb that had been listed for $1.45 million. There, he opened a commercial forge to craft knives and swords, ‘as a hobby,’ Post’s representative told the city’s planning commission.”
The Shuttered Venue program was “plagued by ineffective oversight and loopholes that allowed some of the biggest names in the music industry to get huge payouts,” the report noted.
Among those who cashed in:
• Slipknot, with over 30 million albums sold, received $9.7 million.
• Knotfest, a music festival founded by Slipknot, received just over $1 million.
• Lil Wayne, net worth $170 million, got $8.9 million.
• The Smashing Pumpkins, who have sold over 30 million albums, got $8.6 million.
• Usher, with a net worth of $180 million, got $3.1 million.
• Nickelback, with over 50 million albums sold, received $2 million.
New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of the lawmakers who sponsored what was initially called the “Save Our Stages” bill, told his constituents the money allocated for the program would be used for “independent live venue operators, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions such as live performing arts organizations and museums,” according to a press release.
Long and Newsham noted that music industry sources contacted during their investigation “defended the Shuttered Venue program by pointing out that many artists typically contract with hundreds of sound and lighting technicians, costumers, drivers, security personnel, and other contractors when they put together a tour. All those contractors were out of work during the lockdowns, the sources said, and artists applying for grants could have used the money to help keep them afloat.”
But, the report added, “there was no requirement that they spend the money that way. The grant money was intended as replacement for lost revenue, and recipients could spend it on things like existing mortgage payments, taxes, and payroll — including paying themselves.”