#SafeArtsSarasota Welcomes Back Arts Patrons With Safety Protocols in Place

Sarasota arts organizations are ready to welcome back patrons for a full season of arts offerings—and they want to offer a safe environment.

That led to a coalition of nine of Sarasota County’s major arts groups to come together and set health and safety protocols to keep patrons safe during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, so they could return to those venues and fully support Sarasota’s vibrant arts scene.

Calling the initiative #SafeArtsSarasota, the arts groups include:

#SafeArtsSarasota aims both to protect patrons and also preserve the livelihood and jobs that come from these popular arts venues.

Working with the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, these groups plan to invite other arts groups to join their initiative.

New Rules in Place

The arts organizations participating in #SafeArtsSarasota have had safety and health measures in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the new initiative makes their requirements more uniform. Starting in late September, the organizations now require the following:

  • All patrons age 12 or older coming to an indoor performance must present either a negative PCR COVID-19 test administered by a medical provider/official testing center no early than 72 hours before the time of their performance OR a negative rapid antigen COVID-19 test administered by a medical provider/official testing center no earlier than 24 hours prior to the time of their performance. Home testing kits are not acceptable.
  • Testing documents can be presented physically or electronically. Photo IDs also are required.
  • If patrons prefer, an official vaccination record showing that patrons are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (at least 14 days since the final dose) may be voluntarily presented at the door as an acceptable alternative.
  • All patrons age 6 or older, regardless of vaccination or testing status, must wear masks over their nose and mouth at all times while inside.

As of Monday, March 7th, 2022, the Circus Arts Conservatory, Florida Studio Theatre, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra, and Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe will no longer require proof of a recent test or vaccination to enter their venues. Face masks covering the nose and mouth will still be required inside the venues. However, ticketholders are encouraged to check each organization’s website, as these policies will be evaluated on a regular basis as conditions evolve.

Exception to this change:
  • The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall: The Van Wezel as of this date will only screen for negative tests or voluntary vaccine cards for a few shows as demanded by artist contracts. Van Wezel audiences should always consult its website safety page for Covid-19 protocols prior to attending any program.
The following organizations will not be changing their protocols at this time: 
  • Asolo Repertory Theatre: Asolo Rep remains committed to operate by the same set of protocols as New York’s Broadway theatres. Therefore, they will continue with the current protocols and re-evaluate alongside Broadway on or before April 30, 2022.
  • The Hermitage Artist Retreat: While the majority of Hermitage events will continue to be presented outdoors, any indoor Hermitage events will continue with the current documentation protocols until further notice.
  • Sarasota Ballet: The Sarasota Ballet will continue the current protocols and re-evaluate by the end of March 2022.

These protocols may be updated as needed based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Similar and additional precautions are in place for artists, staff, crew, and vendors.

A Return to Full Capacity

For the 2020-2021 arts season, the arts organizations part of #SafeArtsSarasota proceeded in differing ways. Some held indoor shows with limited capacity, and others held virtual or outdoors shows. Many kept their seasons shorter, with fewer show. It was easy to feel the sting from an inability to offer shows on a full schedule or in full capacity.

The Sarasota Opera held indoor shows last season with several health and safety protocols in place, says general director Richard Russell. That included masks and social distancing and a limit of a 20% capacity.

Now, Sarasota Opera will welcome full capacity again with the #SafeArtsSarasota protocols in place. They also have updated their air conditioning system and added sanitation centers.

The majority of those who support Sarasota Opera are supportive and positive about the new rules, Russell says. Plus, ticket sales have increased.

“We want full capacity and to do it in a way that makes audiences comfortable,” Russell says.

At Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, executive director Julie Leach says patrons supported both virtual and outdoors events last season but are ready to return to in-person shows. “Our patrons love personal connections,” she says.

Beyond the protocols for patrons, performs undergo additional rules, such as wearing masks except when singing and getting tested for COVID about twice a week, Leach says.

Leach and others who support the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe are looking forward this season to shows like “Eubie!”, a Broadway-style show about composer and pianist Eubie Blake; and “Joyful! Joyful!”, a holiday production featuring high-spirited, uplifting songs.

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