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U.S. Government Backs Bushnell Reopening With Multimillion-Dollar Grant

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public
The seats at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts will fill up in October after COVID-19 forced the venue to halt in-person attendance for theater productions.

The 90-year-old shuttered Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford will soon spring to life.

When the pandemic hit, 90% of workers there were sent home -- the theater was closed to the public.

Mike Sullivan, a veteran stagehand with the Local 84 of the IATSE union, is still technically on furlough. But that will change and Sullivan is crediting the federal government for his return.

“On behalf of Local 84 stagehands in Hartford -- we represent 125 members and just as many extras that work through the theater here -- we really just want to say thank you so much,” Sullivan said.

The Bushnell, along with many other U.S. venues that were shuttered during the pandemic, will get money from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan. The Hartford staple will receive $5.75 million.

“It’s a critical piece of the puzzle for us to be back on track,” said David Fay, president of the Bushnell.

Fay said the money will help with operational costs. The theater survived the pandemic on endowment funding and private donations.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) championed the legislation that, in addition to supporting the Bushnell, also benefits at least 35 other local venues eligible for these federal coronavirus relief dollars. One reason Blumenthal backs it is because he believes live shows spur an economic ecosystem: A ticket purchased for the theater will lead spectators toward shops and restaurants and the area around the venue. The second reason has to do with the impact the arts have on our souls.

“Our cultural institutions are really part of our lifeblood, and this program -- and the billions of dollars -- is a lifeline to sustaining what is great about Connecticut and our country, which is that creative instinct, that sense of yearning and accomplishing dreams -- and making those dreams -- for the generations to come,” Blumenthal said.

The Bushnell is scheduled to reopen with a performance by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 1.

Sullivan, the veteran Bushnell stagehand, believes Blumenthal and the other lawmakers who backed this federal funding are responsible for the reopening.

“You never gave up. You kept pushing,” Sullivan said.

“You worked for us: the people who work backstage -- we’re here in the morning, we’re here at night -- our local [union] can’t thank you enough.”

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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