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Grant helps Passim plan for life after COVID

Jim Wooster, executive director of Club Passim.
Jim Wooster, executive director of Club Passim.Barry Schneier

In a year that’s been especially tough on smaller music venues, Club Passim has received some rare good news.

The Cambridge venue is one of 20 clubs around the nation selected for a grant from the Live Music Society. The Word Barn in Exeter, N.H., and Jonathan’s Ogunquit in Ogunquit, Maine, are also among the recipients. The nonprofit, founded by Berklee College of Music trustee Peter Muller, launched in June; its inaugural round of grants to clubs with a capacity of 250 or less range from $10,000 to $50,000.

“We’re excited, and we appreciate what they’re doing to help keep venues alive,” said Jim Wooster, executive director of Club Passim. Wooster said Passim’s grant of $20,000 will be used “to work on the club itself. We may redo some of our air conditioning. And to help with our streaming infrastructure … so we can continue to stream even after COVID subsides.”

Why Passim?

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“The jury ranked Passim highly — a well-known, well-respected venue with a very long history,” said Live Music Society executive director Joyce Lim. The jury selected the venues, finalists were interviewed by Lim and a jury member, and the board picked the recipients.

“In the application we could see they were thinking ahead, not just in what to do next, or how to shift, but also in helping the artists. They had set up a fund,” she said, referring to the Passim Emergency Artist Relief Fund that has raised more than $143,000, distributed to some 250 artists. “It was not a difficult choice at all.”

Wooster said the grant is “definitely going to help.”

“Our revenue is down dramatically,” he said. “We make a lot of revenue through the kitchen, food, beer, and wine — we’re missing all that now. The hardest thing we’ve had to do since COVID is to furlough our club staff, who are a huge part of the spirit of Passim. Not seeing them every night is really rough.”

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Passim started live-streaming early in the pandemic, on a suggested-donation basis. It’s a way to “keep the lights on,” Wooster said. “But it’s nowhere near what we would normally make for a sold-out ticketed show.”

Passim has also kept its school and open mics going virtually while the club is shut down.

“We think we can get through this for a year or so, doing what we’re doing now,” Wooster said. "And if it ends up being several years, hopefully there will be some more federal relief that comes along.”

Learn more at www.livemusicsociety.org. It will be accepting grant applications starting Jan. 5.

Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.