Here’s an important update from our community—BSR’s staff and writers—to yours, because really, we’re all part of one community. Last week, we talked about the arts journalist’s new job in the pandemic, and this week, we’re talking about how we’re not ready to cover indoor arts events or exhibitions.
Our inboxes have many invitations to museums in the greater Philadelphia area that are beginning to reopen, touting safety precautions like advance reservations, timed entry, limited capacity, and mandatory masks. Is it enough? We hope it is, and we understand why institutions are moving to welcome visitors again, and why people want to go (particularly, perhaps, exhausted parents). But especially in light of the city’s cancellation of all large public events for the next six months, we’re worried at the prospect of people heading indoors together again, even for something as worthwhile as, say, an art exhibition. We’re not ready to proceed with reviews of events like that as if everything is back to normal—as if our attending writer is not at risk, as if our readers do not assume a risk in going, and as if our city does not take a risk in cultivating indoor gatherings this summer.
While there are clear guidelines for everyone to follow, like wearing masks outdoors and in public spaces, your risk of COVID complications is an individual calculus. Our social-media manager, Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, wrote about this at the beginning of the lockdown. She cares for a son with autism while living with type 1 diabetes. Illness in her family could carry more serious consequences than illness in another family, and she makes choices accordingly.
Whether we’re worried about our own health or the health of loved ones (some people have immunocompromised family members or housemates, for example), a lot of us know what that choice feels like, every time we step out the door. Even if we or our families are otherwise healthy, structural economic and healthcare disparities sharpen that choice. Who can afford sick time? Who can afford a hospital stay? Who can rely on competent healthcare that doesn’t discriminate by ability, gender, body size, immigration status, race, or income? If none of these things worry you personally, can you say the same for everyone you know?
Whether you feel comfortable visiting an indoor art gallery or you know that you’re going to stay indoors until 2021 (at least), BSR is still here for you, tailoring our content so that the broadest number of people find it realistically accessible. For now, that means our arts coverage will keep its current focus on content and events readers can access digitally from home, or attend safely outside.
We’ll continue to approach coverage of the arts in a pandemic, as we do all arts coverage, through the lens of accessibility. As I noted in my recent piece on the proposed Wilma Globe, COVID is the biggest accessibility issue we’ve ever collectively faced, and we should use it as an opportunity to reflect on the ways we may have impeded access in the past, and how we can better advocate for everyone in future—now that we’ve seen firsthand how quickly everything can change, if we just have the will.
When BSR does begin to cover indoor arts events again, you’ll be able to look at the “What, When, Where, and Accessibility” box that accompanies each article for a summary of the precautions in effect at the hosting organization, as long as COVID remains a risk.
Holding off on covering indoor events, in the spirit of the extreme caution that we’re hearing from our public-health officials, isn’t an easy choice or one that will please everyone, but we believe it’s in line with our mission to serve the greatest possible number of our readers in the best possible way. So as the COVID summer marches toward fall, you can continue to look to BSR for roundups of digitally accessible arts events and resources, features and profiles, reviews of things you can enjoy at home, and some of the best essays in town.
We at BSR aren’t medical experts, but we’re looking to the experts. If and when COVID risks significantly reduce, we’ll pivot back to other kinds of coverage. But until then, we want our community to know that we’re putting safety first.