Milwaukee’s Performing Arts Groups Require Proof Of COVID-19 Vaccination Or Negative Test

Arts CEO: Path Back To Live Performances, 'Some Type Of Normalcy' Is Vaccination

Jane Ellen Norman, 12, holds vaccination cards for her and her 14-year-old brother
Jane Ellen Norman, 12, holds vaccination cards for her and her 14-year-old brother Owen outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. The two were vaccinated Tuesday morning, after U.S. regulators expanded use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot to those as young as 12. Angie Wang/AP Photo

Milwaukee’s performing arts organizations are the latest groups to announce they will require attendees to require proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or proof a recent negative test.

The change begins this month.

The announcement, which includes the Marcus Performing Arts Center, Milwaukee Ballet and Black Arts MKE, comes as businesses and nonprofits across Wisconsin struggle to decide how to safely stay open as the delta variant continues to increase the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, straining some hospitals.

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In August, the Pabst Theater Group and Summerfest announced attendees would have to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from the past 72 hours. The music festival along Milwaukee’s lakefront starts Thursday.

Kendra Whitlock Ingram, president and CEO of Marcus Performing Arts Center, said the health and safety of the audiences, artists and staff are a top priority for everyone in Milwaukee’s performing arts community.

“Our industry faced tremendous challenges and financial devastation over the past 18 months, and this precautionary step will give us the ability to stay in business and ensure live performances can continue safely throughout the city,” Whitlock Ingram said.

All attendees will be asked to show a valid COVID-19 vaccination card or proof of a negative test from the last 72 hours. The venues will accept a printed copy of the documentation or attendees can show it in digital form, such as a screenshot or photo on a phone.

In Milwaukee County, there are an average of 268 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths per day, Dr. Ben Weston, medical director of the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, said Tuesday. Hospitalizations in the county are the highest they’ve been since January, Weston said.

About 1,000 people a day are getting vaccinated in Milwaukee County, but only 53 percent of the county has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the state Department of Health Services.

City of Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said she is grateful the arts groups made the tough decision to require proof of vaccine.

“The only way for us to move out of the pandemic and get back to doing the things we love is for more people to be vaccinated,” Johnson said.

Emily Tao, spokesperson for the city’s health department, said at this time, Johnson does not intend to reinstate a unilateral mask mandate for the city, but “continues to strongly advises indoor masking as a preventative safety precaution for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.”

Performing arts organizations following these COVID-19 precautions include: Black Arts MKE, First Stage, Florentine Opera, Marcus Performing Arts Center, Milwaukee Ballet, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, Present Music, and Skylight Music Theatre.

Chad Bauman, executive director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, said the decision was only difficult because of how political masking and the COVID-19 vaccine have become. But, most of the Rep’s attendees are already vaccinated, Bauman said.

“The science shows that if you are vaccinated, or have a negative test, it makes it much safer for audiences,” Bauman said. “We sent out a survey to thousands of thousands of people over the summer and 70 percent said they would feel much more safe if we required vaccinations.”

Exact protocols may vary by organization, and audience members are encouraged to contact individual organizations for details or questions regarding policies. The organizations will offer refunds for previously purchased tickets.

Whitlock Ingram said the vaccination and testing requirements align with the precautions being taken on Broadway in New York City and more than 65 venues within The League of Chicago Theaters.

“At the end of the day, this gives us the flexibility to do what is best based on our organization and our venue,” Whitlock Ingram said. “Our policy is allowing for those who can’t get vaccinated to show for proof of a negative test, but the real path back to live performance and some type of normalcy is to get vaccinated.”