Bay Area Leaders Launch Innovative Campaign to Get Audiences Out Again

American Conservatory Theater’s Executive Director Jennifer Bielstein (photo by Kevin Berne)

 After a show called “Toni Stone” had both its opening and closing night on the same evening back in March 2020, the American Conservatory Theater’s (A.C.T.) executive director, Jennifer Bielstein, knew it was going to take a lot for Bay Area performing arts to return to normalcy.

“The pandemic has certainly decimated the arts scene in the Bay Area since it started and really shut us all down,” she says. “Now, trying to return we’re certainly seeing that there’s a lot of pent-up demand and hunger for what we do.”

To better facilitate that return, this summer she began talking with her colleagues in all types of performance art across the Bay Area who were getting ready to reopen. “We were seeing data about the Bay Area showing that people who live here were more cautious to return to museums, performing arts organizations, cultural centers and such,” Bielstein says. “What can we do to help rebuild the confidence of people to return to the arts?”

From those conversations and the help of many talented volunteers like Larry Williams, creative director at the San Francisco Symphony, and Jayme Catalano, director of marketing and communications at Shotgun Players, came an innovative public outreach campaign, Bay Area Arts Together. Now more than 100 organizations strong, and growing, the campaign is working to build confidence for audience members about returning to live venues.

“They have been hugely supportive and interested; it’s been very wonderfully collaborative,” Bielstein says about connecting with so many like-minded colleagues. “We all do what we do to serve our communities; it seems to have met a shared need that we all have.”

Meredith Suttles, managing director and CEO of the Marin Theatre Company, agrees.“It was important for us to join Bay Area Arts Together alongside so many other extraordinary arts and cultural organizations who share a commitment to safely bringing audiences back to our spaces,” she says. “The only way we get through these ongoing challenges is together.”

According to Bielstein, one reason the return of the arts is so important is that they contribute so much to the public and the local communities they serve. “They bring us a connection to our fellow citizens and help us learn about ourselves. They inspire thinking, creativity and collaboration,” she says. “They also build a stronger community and have a real economic impact.”

And now that these connections between organizations have been made, Bielstein expects them to continue to be fruitful. “Hopefully this kind of collaboration across all artistic disciplines and all areas of the Bay Area will lead to future collaboration on different things as we go into the future.”