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Arts venues prepare for Boston's new vaccine mandate to take effect

It has been a hard two years for theaters. But the new requirement in Boston to show proof of vaccination to enter is a welcome development to many heads of arts and culture venues, including ArtsEmerson executive director David Howse.

“For us, we weren't asking for proof. And now we are. So there will be a big shift for our audiences,” Howse said. “And I have to say, prior to the mayor's mandate, we did have audience members who were both grateful that we were trusting and attesting. And then we had an equal number who were saying ‘why aren’t you asking for proof?’”

With Mayor Michelle Wu’s new mandate, the city is aiming to increase vaccination rates. The policy, which goes into effect Jan. 15, is called “B Together,” and asks the community to get vaccinated and show proof when they go to restaurants, indoor fitness locations and any indoor entertainment.

People over the age of 12 will be expected to show evidence of at least one dose before entering indoor venues. As of Feb. 15, they will have to show they are vaccinated with two doses. Businesses will be expected to enforce this policy. Everyone has played a role in this effort to keep audiences safe, Howse said, from marketing to public-facing staff and the production team.

“I would say that we've been operating under the assumption that we need to get ready for this current disruption,” Howse said. “But I think these disruptions are going to keep coming and so we have to prepare ourselves for an onslaught.”

Howse said he felt some relief at the mayor's announcement as it brought much-needed guidance. The city will be providing policy notices to put on entrances to businesses. Boch Center president and CEO Joe Spaulding said they initially had a triumphant return this past fall.

“From September to the middle of December, we have never had that many sold-out shows in a row in my 36-year career,” Spaulding said. “We didn't have one case, not one. And we had record shows with 98 to 99% of the audience showing their proof of vaccination.”

Omicron, he said, has been a gut punch, affecting theater staff and performers and pushing show schedules back. Staff is working fully from home at the moment. "I'm very optimistic that this thing is going to get under control and we're going to get back to somewhat normal, but it'll never be the same normal,” Spaulding said.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is accelerating the mandate's schedule; to enter Symphony Hall patrons will be required to show proof of two vaccination doses as of Jan. 15. Negative test results will no longer be accepted for entry.

And at the MassArt Art Museum (MAAM), their expected opening date is now Feb. 2 and they will require evidence of two doses of the vaccine. Previously, they only required masking while inside the museum.

“Given the state we're in, people still want to gather in safe ways and be around art and creativity and making,” said Chloe Zaug, associate director at MAAM. “It’s something that is hard to feel in community with, virtually. So I am excited for our in-person programs that are coming up.”

Related:

Cristela Guerra Twitter Reporter
Cristela Guerra is an arts and culture reporter for WBUR.

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