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As Entertainment Venues Reopen, Will People Go?

A museum visitor in Turin, Italy, look at the artworks of the exhibition "Defying the Baroque." [MikeDotta / Shutterstock]
A museum visitor in Turin, Italy, look at the artworks.

As restaurants, museums and movie theaters reopen, the majority of U.S. adults do not yet feel comfortable patronizing them, according to a new national survey.

“Broadly, we see that up to 40 percent of the population is comfortable doing certain things. And those tend to be things like going out to eat or going on vacation,” said Victoria Sakal, managing director for brand intelligence at Morning Consult, a market research company that conducted the survey this month.

Forty-one percent of U.S. adults were OK with going out to eat. Fewer people, 21 percent, were comfortable going to a concert and 30 percent would visit a museum.

“I suspect because when one thinks of going to a museum, and to some extent going to a shopping mall, you don't envision yourself packed in with a bunch of other people. In fact, there's often efforts to constrain how many people can even be in a gallery to view certain pieces of art,” Sakal said.

Locally, several arts organizations conducted their own surveys, including the Cleveland baroque orchestra Apollo's Fire.

“We are an organization that lives by our data,” said Howard Bender, executive director of Apollo’s Fire.

Apollo's Fire plans to follow health safety guidelines at future performances [Sisi Burns / Apollo's Fire]

Its next concert season is going to be available to subscribers in person or from home, based on the preferences of patrons recorded through a survey.

“We found out that about 64 percent of folks would watch at home,” he said.

For the roughly one third of fans interested in attending concerts, Apollo’s Fire announced plans to limit capacity and check temperatures at the door, depending on health guidelines at the time of concerts.  

Apollo’s Fire’s survey also gauged what people would pay to watch at home.

“We found out that almost half the folks would pay the same as a regular ticket for the virtual link, for a virtual concert. And that they preferred a delayed broadcast to a live stream, overwhelmingly,” Bender said.

Dana Depew's in-your-face sculpture outside of 78th Street Studios in Cleveland, home to various art galleries and studios. [David C. Barnett / ideastream]

78 th Street Studios wondered if fans would attend its monthly art walk, scaled down and with social distancing, and surveyed prior visitors to the Cleveland arts complex. Thirty-six percent of respondents said they would very likely attend.

“My main priority is just to let our audience, our former audience, know that we're still around, that everybody here is still creating the great work and curating the wonderful exhibits that they have always curated,” said Dan Bush, owner of 78 th Street Studios.

Last week, 78 th Street Studios hosted an event featuring local artisans and limited attendance to 200 people, much smaller than its monthly art tours.

“Two hundred people, which is essentially 10 percent of our normal traffic on a Third Friday, seemed like a controllable number,” Bush said.

The number could grow, based on the survey, which showed that respondents anticipate greater comfort with visiting the studio and gallery spaces later in the summer.

Holden Arboretum and the Cleveland Botanical Garden are controlling how many people are in their gardens by requiring people to reserve a time to visit.

“The reason why we're doing that is it's our best way that we can control the number of folks who are on one of our campuses at any given time and to ensure that we don't have big crowds happening,” said Joel Alpern, deputy director of Holden Forests and Gardens, which manages both locations.

Northern green frog as seen at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. [Joel Alpern / Holden Forests and Gardens]

People seem to have greater comfort with outdoor recreation, based on recent attendance numbers from Holden Arboretum. Last month, the gardens and trails in Lake County reopened first to members and then the public. Since reopening, attendance has been about 65 percent of what it was in 2019.

“We were expecting to see fairly low [attendance] at first and then beginning to ramp up. And I would say it's been pretty consistent with that,” Alpern said.

In addition to accommodating those who feel most comfortable with outdoor activity, Holden Forests and Gardens, like many arts and cultural organizations, is planning more virtual programming, including for summer camps.

The trend of creating ways to connect with visitors at home could well very continue beyond the pandemic.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.