What to Expect for Boston’s Performing Arts Scene as Reopening Continues

While indoor performance venues will be allowed to re-open in Boston on March 22 (and are already open across Massachusetts) with reduced capacity, it doesn’t mean that performances are ready for the stage or that audiences are ready to take their seats. We’re breaking down what you need to know about Massachusetts’ ongoing reopening plans from within the performing arts industry and how you can help us get closer to the opening act:

Where we Are

  • By early 2022, the arts sector will have endured the longest stretch of fiscal freefall of any sector.  Because the nature of our business is to bring people together for social and cultural experiences, this made us the first to close down and makes us the last to return.

    • According to the most recent numbers from the Mass Cultural Council, Greater Boston non-profit cultural organizations have lost $314 million in revenue due to cancellations and closures, 13,500 jobs across the sector (1 in 4 pre-pandemic jobs affected). Groups estimate it will cost more than $50 Million (above and beyond the lost revenue) to reopen to the public.

  • The arts sector is hurting in different ways than other industries. Unlike restaurants, arts organizations do not have easily transferable ways to bring in earned income. Streaming performances do not equal takeout revenues, nor do they support the sector like lucrative television or licensing deals that underwrite pandemic major league sports..

  • Without gigs, many independent artists have found that they needed to relocate because they couldn’t afford to live in or near Boston. We may not know the impact on our creative community until the dust settles.

  • The arts sector in Boston supports so many other sectors: restaurants, hospitality, retail, and parking. We are starting to see some of these sectors recognize the difficulty to get back to normal without the draw of cultural destinations in Boston.

Behind the Curtain on Industry-wide Preparations

Since June of 2020, ArtsBoston has been keeping tabs on arts attendees’ thoughts, concerns, and intentions as the pandemic and reopening steps progress. Many ArtsBoston member organizations are looking at reopening in the fall with the potential for some select programming in the summer. We’ve also heard from you through the Audience Outlook Monitor, and that research will also continue through fall 2021. To those of you who received a survey and filled it out – thank you!

  • Audiences are clearly ready to go back to the performing arts, but a successful vaccine rollout is a must. 96% of traditional arts goers say they will definitely or likely get vaccinated, but for now, they are interested in outdoor activities (zoos, botanical gardens, distanced performances).

  • Programming performances, especially with an increased need for safety measures, takes quite a bit of lead time. When audiences do return, they expect that venues will enforce mask-wearing and social distancing, and that facility HVAC systems will be updated to ensure safer air quality. Planning for this will need to be done in addition to the usual processes of hiring artists, rehearsing, and spreading the word.

  • Holding performances with reduced audience capacity will not be financially sustainable for many performing arts venues. 

  • Virtual experiences are sticking around, and we will likely see hybrid (live/digital) seasons in the future. Audiences have rapidly become more comfortable watching and paying for digital delivery of performing arts content, and many say that this will likely make up a decent portion of their cultural diet. That being said, digital content still can be expensive to create, and organizations will need funding to support this going forward.

So what can you and your community do to ensure that we can return to Greater Boston’s beloved theaters and performance venues sooner rather than later? We encourage everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and you can also ask your legislators to support substantial financial relief for the arts. And finally, if you can, donate to arts and culture organizations. Your support means a lot not just to the art workers who are making things happen during the pandemic, but to your fellow audiences, community members, and youth who look to the arts in Boston for vibrant and joyful experiences.

Header Photo: Emerson Colonial Theatre grand staircase, Courtesy of Patrick Farrell via WBUR

Elena Pearl, Patron Services ManagerElena Morris (she/her/hers) is ArtsBoston’s Community Outreach and Marketing Manager. She is a dramaturg and arts administrator passionate about forward-thinking in the arts. Elena holds a BFA in Theatre Arts from Boston University, focusing her studies on dramatic literature and movement.
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