As they welcome audiences back, arts groups in Washington State implement costly COVID-19 protocols

Posted on: March 1, 2022

The Seattle Symphony performs for a limited in-person audience at Benaroya Hall in May 2021. Photo: James Holt / Seattle Symphony

“In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis found that ‘arts and cultural production’ accounted for 8.7% of [Washington] state’s gross product and nearly 186,000 jobs,” rites Rich Smith in last Wednesday’s (2/23) Stranger (Seattle, WA). “But in the last several months, these institutions have taken on another important role in society: public health administration…. To avoid costly shutdowns, they’re shelling out for hospital-grade filtration systems, daily testing regimes for performers and crew, more staff to check vaccine cards and IDs, and COVID compliance officers to ensure quality control…. A spokesperson for the Seattle Symphony said testing and masking protocols cost approximately $15,000 per week. The symphony also upgraded [Benaroya] hall’s HVAC…. Box office sales in 2021 did not make up for these costs, with COVID reducing ticket sales 32% … compared to the same period during the 2019/20 season. However, … local, state, and federal money … plus ‘additional support from fundraising successes’ helped balance budgets between 2019 and 2021, and CEO and president Krishna Thiagarajan expects ending the current fiscal year with a balanced budget as well. Nevertheless, Thiagarajan also predicts … ‘it will take several years, and further external support, to make up for the losses caused by the pandemic.’ ”