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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

What The Data Shows On When Arts Patrons Will Come Back

Virus Outbreak Spain Concert
Emilio Morenatti
The Audience Outlook Monitor, based on a survey of patrons from around 400 cultural organizations around the world, offers some data-driven insight into what arts venues should expect.

A new study shows arts patrons are more likely to be vaccinated than the general public and are increasingly comfortable returning to cultural events, though a “significant minority” are still not ready.

Cultural venues across central Illinois—from concert halls to museums to art galleries—are making decisions now about reopening and what the experience will be like for patrons. The Audience Outlook Monitor, based on a survey of patrons from around 400 cultural organizations around the world, offers some data-driven insight into what they should expect.

First, the good news.

“It's amazing how quickly arts audiences got vaccinated,” said Alan Brown, principal at WolfBrown, who oversees the survey. “As of mid-May, our data suggests 95% or more of arts audiences are already vaccinated, which is much higher than the general population.”

“So that allows us to entertain the thought that going to the theater is much safer than going to the grocery store or to the gas station,” he said.

But as of late May, about 40% of vaccinated people in the survey are not yet ready to go out again. That varies city to city. New Yorkers are more ready than those in San Francisco, for example. About 51% of respondents in the Chicago cohort said they were ready now, or soon as it's permitted, as of mid-May. That's up from 29% in mid-March.

“A substantial minority are still not ready,” said Brown. “And so we’re doing what we can to take the pulse of people and find out what their concerns and whether those concerns will just melt away over the next few months, or whether they’ll persist.”

One stubborn data point is that 35% of U.S. survey respondents believe someone in their household is vulnerable to a serious health outcome if they contract COVID-19. That was 47% a year ago and hasn’t dropped significantly even as vaccinations rose sharply.

That suggests vaccinated people are concerned about breakthrough infections, or that their immunity might ebb and flow and they may need a booster shot at some point, Brown said.

How we define accessibility

This points to a longer-term issue facing arts organizations, he said.

“The notion of accessibility is shifting under our feet,” Brown said. “And there’s going to be a group of people who can’t go out for a long time, and maybe ever. And we’re going to have to learn how to embrace those people and engage them in our work, either digitally through online programming, or potentially producing events where we have distancing and masks even long after those requirements are waived.”

Whenever they return, 9 in 10 people surveyed say they will comply with health safety measures at performing arts venues regardless of their vaccination status, according to the Audience Outlook Monitor. That’s even higher for museums.

Arts venues know how many people won’t come if they have to wear a mask and socially distance, Brown said. That’s about 10%. What they’ll soon learn is how many people won’t come if masks are optional or not enforced, Brown said. He suspects that’s a big group.

“You lose people both ways. You lose people if you do require masks, and you lose people if you don’t require masks,” Brown said.

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