LENOX — A botched, delayed rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program by the federal government — possibly a temporary setback — and continued resistance by a significant minority of Americans send up warning flares for our hospitality-tourism-arts economy in 2021.
The three-month shutdown of the high-end Canyon Ranch Lenox resort announced this past week, with an undisclosed number of employee furloughs, is discouraging, yet not surprising. The state’s travel order bars visitors (unless they’re from Hawaii) from overnight stays unless they can produce a negative test result from the three days before their arrival. Lacking that, they must quarantine for 10 days.
What is startling is a note from Eagle reporter Francesca Paris this past week that about 40 percent of Berkshire Healthcare Systems employees at their nursing care facilities have expressed unwillingness to take the vaccine, at least for now.
“Willingness seems to be higher at the hospital system than long-term care facilities,” she told me, since 80 to 90 percent of staffers at Berkshire Medical Center and Fairview Hospital are on board with getting inoculated.
Perhaps over the next few weeks, confidence will increase as more people get the shots, with adverse effects extremely rare.
No clairvoyant can predict with any confidence whether our major cultural destinations, including performing arts stages and museums, will be able to draw enough residents and tourists this summer to operate with any semblance of normalcy. More likely, their seasons will be scaled back.
As Boston Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Mark Volpe commented recently, rather than focusing on whether audience favorites like Yo-Yo Ma will be available for performances at the orchestra’s summer home, “I’m talking about what the future is going to be.”
Normally, tickets for the Tanglewood season would have gone on sale to donors around Thanksgiving. In a statement released two weeks ago, the BSO offered assurances that “the orchestra is determined, if at all possible, to welcome in-person audiences for programs this summer.”
Most likely, a reduced schedule will be unveiled in mid- to late March. An open question is the status of the BSO’s prestigious training academy for young musicians, the Tanglewood Music Center.
Shakespeare & Company aims to build a new outdoor stage for performances this summer, betting that audiences will feel more comfortable in the open air rather than within one of its two theaters.
Fundraising is so vital to the arts when box-office revenues for most presenters has fallen sharply, as The New York Times reported this week. Ticket sales for U.S. performing arts groups were down 96.3 percent in November, compared with that month the previous year, according to the analytics group TRG Arts.
Individual donations to arts organizations fell by 14 percent in North America during the first nine months of the year, the group’s survey found, and the average size of gifts from the most active, loyal patrons declined by 38 percent.
A survey of performing arts administrators by the publication Inside Philanthropy found 45 percent reporting “reduced funder interest and resources as a result of the current shifting of funds for COVID and racial justice.”
There’s a silver lining in the arts management playbook — $15 billion of relief in the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress that President Donald Trump finally signed into law last Sunday night.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Julianne Boyd, artistic director of Barrington Stage Company, commented to The Eagle. “I wish it were more, when you think about how many performing arts organizations there are in this country. ... We’re certainly going to be applying for it, and I would imagine many of the other theaters in the area and in our state are, too.”
The Save Our Stages Act covers small- and medium-size theaters and venues with 500 or fewer employees, and promises financial aid to those that lost at least 25 percent in revenue. It applies to multiple aspects of the live and theatrical business, including venue operators, promoters, producers, performing arts organizations, museum operators and even talent representatives.
The grants from the U.S. Small Business Administration, capped at $10 million for any single organization, can be used to support six months of payments to employees and to cover rent, utilities and maintenance. Applicants that have lost more than 90 percent of their revenue will be able to apply first; the window for grant-seekers opened on New Year’s Eve.
“We’re certainly eligible as the law stands now,” Volpe told The Eagle. “It helps. But, I can’t tell you how much it helps, because we don’t know what it’s going to be.”
So-called COVID passports, an app or a document showing proof of vaccination, will be crucial for everyone at our performing arts stages and museums in order to build public confidence. Rapid tests, or evidence of a negative test within 72 hours prior to admission, may be required for audiences.
At some point, perhaps by June, the pent-up desire for live presentations will overcome qualms about public gatherings. To that end, it’s not only a patriotic duty to get our shots in the arm to protect against the ravages of a pandemic still out of control, but, also, a highly pragmatic decision to support our tourism-centered economy.