Fitton Center to receive nearly $200,000 in federal COVID funds in Hamilton

The Fitton Center waited as long as it could to lay off or furlough staff during the novel coronavirus pandemic, but staff cutbacks eventually happened in August 2020 for the Hamilton arts center.

But with the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants fund administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, it will use much of its $186,761 grant to pay for staff.

“We tried to hold on as long as we could because our staff is family,” said Fitton Center Executive Director Ian MacKenzie-Thurley. “We are looking to rebuild and regrow the Fitton Center organization. That’s the most important thing because if we can have staffing, we can have programming.”

Nationwide, more than 9,800 venue operators and production companies are to receive part of a collective $7.57 billion in SVOG funds. In Ohio, 298 venue operators and production companies received a collective $221.7 million. The Fitton Center, 101 S. Monument Ave., was one of three Butler County organizations to receive SVOG funds.

MacKenzie-Thurley said they are looking to hire three positions ― one for community outreach and two administrative ― with more to come.

The SBA awarded SVOG funds to “hard-hit live entertainment small businesses, nonprofits, and venues,” according to the agency. The program was designed to assist the nation’s cultural institutions back on track, according to the SBA.

Other Butler County agencies receiving SVOG funds are Performing Arts Academy, 4400 Lewis St., Middletown, ($101,025) and Dorothy & Clarence Enterprise, 15 N. Timber Hollow Drive, Fairfield ($12,150), according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

MacKenzie-Thurley said the city of Hamilton Health Department assisted the Fitton Center in reopening programming opportunities beginning in June. Though the programming hasn’t fully returned, he said the Fitton Center did have outdoor programming, such as summer camps, educational programs, Fitton on the Hill at Pyramid Hill, and Shakespeare at Municipal Brew Works. They also have an outdoor art project, Wings of Hope, that has more 1,000 handmade glass butterflies from nearly 400 artists in 29 U.S. states and eight countries.

Receiving these funds, not just for the Fitton Center but all arts programs, is “incredibly important,” MacKenzie-Thurley said. “Always remember that one of the first industries to shut down were the arts, across the board. As other people reopened, we did not. As other industries were supported and funded, we were not directly.”

Arts organizations were eligible for programs, like the Payroll Protection Program, MacKenzie said “other sectors were directly funded.” The SVOG funds were part of an economic aid package signed into law in late 2020, and the SBA said eligible entities include live venue operators or promoters, theatrical producers, and live performing arts organization operators, and entities owned by state or local governments were also eligible.

“It’s been an incredibly long wait,” MacKenzie-Thurley said, “but the art sector has waited very, very patiently.”

Staff Writer Nick Blizzard contributed to this story.


Here are some of the area organizations that received funding from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants program administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

  • Five Ohio organizations ― Music and Event Mangement, Inc. in Cincinnati, Zoological Society of Cincinnati, Columbus Zoological Park Association, Jerome Schottenstein Center, Columbus Association for the Performing Arts ― each received $10 million
  • Dozens of Cincinnati and Hamilton County organizations received funding, and 10 received at least $1 million.
  • The states with the most organizations receiving SVOG funds are: California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
  • Washington, D.C. and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands also received SVOG funds.

Source: U.S. Small Business Administration

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