Cities and states are easing Covid restrictions. Are theaters and the arts next?

When music fans passed under the familiar piano-shaped canopy and dark embrace of the Blue Note Jazz Club in Greenwich Village this week, a pandemic-ending device was missing: No one checked for proof of vaccinations and photo IDs.

A special guest came to announce the change. “It’s good to be back,” Mayor Eric Adams of New York City told the largely maskless public on Monday, the day the city stopped requiring proof of vaccinations in restaurants and entertainment venues. . “I consider myself the mayor of nightlife, so I’m going to review the product every night.”

It’s a different story in Downtown, where Carnegie Hall continues to demand masks and vaccines and the Metropolitan Opera goes even further, requiring all eligible people to show proof that they have received their boosters – security measures that have always gone beyond what the city required but which reassured many music lovers. “We want the public to feel comfortable and safe,” said Met Chief Executive Peter Gelb.

As cities and states across the country move to reduce mask and vaccine requirements as coronavirus cases decline, leaders of cultural institutions are once again finding themselves faced with tough decisions: is safe to relax virus security measures, and would doing so be more likely to attract or alienate the public?

Their answers varied greatly. Broadway will continue to require masks and proof of vaccinations until at least the end of April. the Smithsonian Institution in Washington announced it would drop its mask requirement for visitors to its museums and the National Zoo on Friday, following moves by major art museums in places like Chicago and Houston. Some comedy clubs in New York that have dropped masking mandates months ago consider continuing to require proof of vaccination.

“In the beginning, many arts organizations had to develop their own policies before there were clear government guidelines,” said Matthew Shilvock, general manager of San Francisco Opera. “As we come out of this, again, you find arts companies that have to find their own way.”

In interviews, leaders of nearly a dozen cultural groups across the country stressed the need for caution and caution. But they noted that each of their situations is distinct. In museums, patrons can browse large galleries and opt for social distancing as they please. In theaters and concert halls, spectators sit close together, motionless for the duration of a performance. Opera houses and symphony orchestras tend to attract older, more vulnerable audiences than nightclubs and comedy clubs.

Comments from arts executives say they are receiving visitors are different: some said they had felt growing pressure to relax their rules in recent weeks, while others said the vast majority of members of their audience had told them they were more likely to visit places. who continue to maintain strict health and safety requirements.

“For every person complaining about the mask requirement, we probably have about 10 people expressing unsolicited gratitude for the fact that we choose to always have masks in place,” said Meghan Pressman, CEO and Director. general of the Center Theatre. Group in Los Angeles. She said she would be “surprised” if her organization changed its masking rules before Broadway.

On Broadway, which has been shuttered by the pandemic for more than a year, officials said theater operators will continue to require masks and proof of vaccinations until at least April. “We look forward to welcoming our mask-free viewers one day soon, and in the meantime, we want to make sure we keep our cast, crew and viewers safe so we can continue to bring the magic of Broadway to our audiences. uninterrupted,” Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, said in a statement.

The Metropolitan Opera, which was the first major arts institution to require people entering their opera house to be both vaccinated and boosted, never missed a performance during the height of Omicron’s recent surge, and did not is in no rush to relax its security measures. “For us, safety comes before Covid fatigue,” said Gelb, the chief executive. “So we’re going to err on the side of caution.”

But the company has relaxed some of its backstage protocols: Soloists weren’t required to wear masks during recent onstage rehearsals of Verdi’s “Don Carlos,” which helped work on their diction as the company sang it in original French for the first time.

Like the Met, the New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center are also maintaining their mask and vaccine mandates for the time being. Carnegie Hall continues to require masks and proof of vaccination, but recently dropped its policy of briefly requiring reminders. Masking and vaccination rules also remain in place at the San Francisco Operathe Los Angeles Philharmonicthe Los Angeles Opera and Center Theater Group.

Two of New York’s major arthouse cinemas are taking different approaches, at least for now. The Film Forum website states that proof of vaccination is are no longer needed and that masks are encouraged but not required. Film at Lincoln Center will be continue to require proof of vaccination and masks until Sunday, but plans to relax its policy next week.

A recent survey conducted by the Associated Press found that half of Americans approve of mask mandates, up from 55% who supported the mandates six months ago and 75% who supported them in December 2020.

Choosing what to do is not easy.

Christopher Koelsch, the president of the Los Angeles Opera, said surveys he has reviewed suggest around a third of audience members would only come to performances if a mask mandate was in place – but that about a third would refuse to come if masks are required.

“No matter what decision you make,” he said, “there are people who are going to be mad at you and believe you’re making the wrong decision.”

Some museums are in an intermediate period. The Metropolitan Museum of Art stopped checking vaccination cards starting Monday but still requires masks. And the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City is expected to lift its mask mandate this month, said museum director Julián Zugazagoitia.

As mask mandates drop in schools, restaurants and other settings, he said, he felt “almost compelled” to do the same. “What I would like to see us do is keep that as a suggestion,” he said of wearing masks indoors.

Other art venues have already changed their rules. Officials from the Art Institute of Chicago said the museum eliminated its mask requirements and vaccines on February 28 in accordance with new government policies. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston – one of the first major US museums to reopen after the country’s lockdown in March 2020 – also relaxed its most recent mask mandate Last week. As it did earlier in the fall, the museum is now recommending — but not requiring — masks for visitors and staff.

“We’ve had an increasing number of visitors and staff asking why we haven’t — or when are we going — to relax the mandatory mask requirement,” said museum director Gary Tinterow.

At the Broadway Comedy Club in New York, patrons have been allowed in without masks for some time. But Al Martin, the club’s chairman, said he was debating whether to stop requiring his guests to be vaccinated.

On the one hand, he said, checking people at the door required him to add staff members, which costs money. And he estimated he lost about 30% of his audience because of the mandate. On the other hand, he said, he liked having a city vaccination mandate to fall back on. “It gave people a certain degree of security and reassurance,” he said.

He ultimately decided to scrap the vaccination mandate at his club from Monday despite his personal fear that City “may have been slightly premature” in overturning the rules.

He reserves the right to change his mind on his club’s policy, he said.

“If I see my activity drop by 40% because people don’t feel safe in my room,” he said, “we go back to the vaccine passport.”

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