LITTLE ROCK, Ark – A community theatre in Little Rock says they were “unjustly denied” after receiving multiple rejections for a federal grant program.

The U.S. Small Business Association designed the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program last spring to help theatres struggling to pay bills during the pandemic.

The SBA was expected to give out $16 Billion.

Amanda Kennedy is the treasure at The Studio Theatre in downtown Little Rock. She says the program was exactly what the theatre needed, seeking $135,000 in grant funds.

“We took on a great deal of debt [during our closure in 2020] because our bills kept going,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy says the theatre was a shoo-in for the program which is why the decision came as a surprise.

“The denial was a complete shock,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy says she received an email from the SBA notifying her the theatre’s grant application had been rejected. She says she wasn’t given a reason why.

Months later Kennedy says she is still searching for answers after two other theatres in Central Arkansas received grants through the program.

“There are other non-profit community theatres, identical to us in all material respects that were funded,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy says The Studio Theatre appealed their denial early this Fall. That appeal was also rejected by the SBA.

“It makes the entire process feel like the luck of draw rather then the letter of the law,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy says she reached out to the SBA seeking an explanation. She says they cited “non-paid performers” as the reason for the rejection.

Kennedy says according to SBA guidelines non-profits are exempt.

“We were unjustly denied,” Kennedy said.

The Studio Theatre leaders say the grant was supposed to be a turning point in the pandemic.

“It was really a critical program for us to take this organization to the next phase,” The Studio Theatre Executive Director Shelby Hibbs said.

Hibbs says the theatre cannot survive on ticket sales alone and is searching for another way to fund the theatre.

“This will set us back a bit,” Hibbs said.

We reached out to the SBA for comment and have not heard back.

Kennedy says a lawsuit isn’t off the table at this point but is taking time to assess finances and lawyer costs.