King County will distribute $20 million in federal COVID-19 recovery funds to theaters, music venues, clubs and other artistic spaces, as cultural institutions work to rebound from pandemic-induced closures, the county announced Thursday.

The county has approved more than $1.4 billion in emergency funding since the start of the pandemic, the vast majority from state and federal grants. Much of that money has gone toward vaccination efforts, rental assistance, community support, economic recovery and public health efforts.

The newer, smaller, slice of funding will go to music venues, independent movie theaters, playhouses and museums. It comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, the COVID-19 relief law passed by Congress and signed by the president in the spring.

The Metropolitan King County Council, voting 8-1, approved the funding in May, as part of a larger round of COVID-19-related emergency spending.

More than $16 million will go to “arts, culture and heritage organizations” with a pre-COVID-19 annual operating budget of more than $1 million. A separate set of funds will be available for smaller organizations.

About $1.5 million will go to science and nature educational organizations with displays and exhibitions, like the Pacific Science Center.


There will be $1 million for independently owned live music venues and $500,000 for independently owned movie theaters.

A survey of local arts organizations, conducted by the local arts advocacy group ArtsFund in the first half of this year, found their expected 2021 earned income was 65% less than pre-pandemic.

“This type of public support will give organizations, artists, and their families more financial runway to adapt to this ever-changing environment,” ArtsFund President and CEO Michael Greer said. “Long-term, public funding that provides consistent financial support to this multibillion dollar industry will be essential in ensuring that hundreds of thousands of workers are protected from future shocks to the sector.”

The money can, among other things, be used to help long-shuttered venues prepare for reopening.

Grant amounts will be based on the number of attendees and events pre-COVID-19, compared to estimated figures for future events, the legislation authorizing the funding says.

Funds will go to organizations with the greatest need, the county said, and will focus on those that “serve a variety of audiences and communities with diverse performances and programming.”

The application process will open on Monday and run through Oct. 18. Organizations will be able to apply for funding at Smaller arts organizations will be able to apply for funding beginning Sept. 23 and can get more information at

“These grants will help save our exhibition spaces, concert venues, movie theatres, and creative places where we congregate and foster the culture that makes King County special,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “We want to ensure that, as we find our way back to normal, King County’s cultural life can bounce back too — vigorously and safely.”