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Arts Venues Find Ways To Celebrate Joy And Process Grief As Vaccination Numbers Rise


In many states, vaccination rates are high enough that residents can get safely back out to hear live music or see a movie in a theater. So if you're in a high-vax state, this is your hot vax summer, right? Well, as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, many art patrons are wary. And for organizations, pleasing everyone will be tricky.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: When Risikat Okedeyi was asked to co-organize a three-day festival for the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., she thought about a scene from the TV sitcom "A Different World." A therapist tells the main character she needs to...


DEBBIE ALLEN: (As Dr. Langhorne) Relax, relate, release.


RISIKAT OKEDEYI: That's fantastic advice. Those three words are something that we all need right now.

BLAIR: To relax, Okedeyi and her team organized poetry and meditation sessions. To relate, DJs will play music that connects generations. And to release, roller skating and dancing.

OKEDEYI: There's going to be a dance instructor who is going to take folks through the hustle and other line dances that allow you to boogie without actually touching people.


VAN MCCOY: (Singing) Do the hustle. Do the hustle.

OKEDEYI: Vaccinated, unvaccinated, people want to get back out, but they don't want to do it too quickly.

ALAN BROWN: Eighty-five percent of everyone is ready to go out again. You know, hallelujah. It's just the strings attached to going out are different for different people.

BLAIR: Alan Brown is a principal with the arts consulting and research firm WolfBrown. They've been asking avid arts consumers about what conditions will make them feel comfortable going to museums and theaters again.

BROWN: We have people who won't go out unless there are mask requirements in place. That figure is 40%. And we also have people who won't go out if there are mask requirements. At the moment, that's about 15%. There's also disagreement as to whether admittance to arts programs should require proof of vaccination. So feelings run hot.

BLAIR: Even people in the same family have different comfort levels.

JESSICA BOWER: I would prefer if they checked if people are vaccinated.

BLAIR: I caught up with Jessica Bower (ph) and her family outside a Washington, D.C., movie theater. But they weren't going inside. They were on their way to dinner. She says when she does get back to in-person entertainment, she hopes venues will check to see if people are vaccinated. That's more important to her than making them wear masks.

BOWER: I think it's hard at a concert or a show if you want to drink and eat.

BLAIR: And what would make you feel comfortable?

ELIZA BOWER SHREVE: Well, honestly, I'm more comfortable with masks.

BLAIR: That is Jessica Bower's daughter, Eliza Bower Shreve (ph), who is, quote, "almost 10." She wants to see "In The Heights" in the movie theater - so long as everyone wears masks.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) In the heights, I can't survive without cafe.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) I serve cafe.

BLAIR: Fun musicals, serious dramas - Alan Brown says when they asked people what kinds of art they want right now, they mostly said same as what they've always wanted. And heads of arts organizations say the same thing. But Brown hopes they do more.

BROWN: As a practical matter, they just want to reschedule those canceled programs, remount those productions that were in production. But I also think that there is a moment in time now as a society where things are not normal and we've been, obviously, traumatized. So I think curators and artistic directors of arts groups are in a position to really bring forward artistic work that both gets us back to where we were and also goes beyond that.

BLAIR: Brown wants to see arts organizations help people both celebrate the joy of being together again, but also help them process the grief of the pandemic.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.
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