SAN FRANCISCO— The San Francisco International Arts Festival (SFIAF) will experiment with outdoor performances this year to comply with the city’s COVID-19 reopening plan, and will host discreet outdoor concerts and local artists presentations on the weekend of October 24.

After almost six month of shutting down the activities of the art industry to follow the shelter-in-place orders, San Francisco officials announced they would allow outdoor music concerts in the city starting September 15 with a capacity of up to 12 people. However, artists and leaders of the industry were concerned with the reopening guidelines, which they did not deem as commercially viable, for two primary reasons, according to a release from the SFIAF. 

First, they didn’t know if other performances such as theater or dances would be able to resume as well. Second, the industry believed the limit of people was too little, as they said that they considered that more than 12 people could physically distance in outdoor events, and that with standard box office operations they could perform contact tracing if necessary. SFIAF said that like other industries who have been reopening, they would follow basic rules such as enforcing the use of masks. 

Andrew Wood, SFIAF director, started a petition in directed to Mayor London Breed and the Department of Public Health to consider their requests for the reopening of the arts. 

“We can distance and protect our customers more comprehensively than other industries can and, if  someone does fall ill, we can trace them faster and more efficiently than other industries are able to,” said Wood on Sept. 11. “ Further, we are an intrinsic part of San Francisco’s economy. By leaving us out the City is hampering its own recovery.” 

The San Francisco Examiner reported that Wood asked for a variance to have audiences of up to 49 people at Fort Mason, which would follow the city’s guidelines for outdoor gatherings, and his request was approved by city officials.

As a result, the SFIAF will have a socially distanced festival with music, theatre, art and storytelling performances from local artists. These include theatre performances by Nkechi (Licensed to Drive While Black) and David Kleinberg (He Wants to Run); music concerts by Manos Lindas and Mission Hot Club and dance performances by Peninsula Ballet Theater, Theatre Flamenco de San Francisco, Steamroller Dance Company, among others. 

The institution said that one of their goals with the festival is to show how these types of artistic events can operate safely while focusing on the health of artists, attendees and staff. Face coverings and social distancing will be mandatory, and a major box-office operation will ensure that every person can be traced. 

While venues remained close, this will be an opportunity for the city to assess the risks of having outdoor performances before the cold weather arrives in the area. Wood said that this would enable the health departments to create better health and safety guidelines for events in the art industry.

“Our goal is to provide the City with a tangible practical example on which to base these guidelines before the rainy season,” Wood said on October 1. “There will be very few outdoor concerts during the winter months. But there is expected to be a rush of applications for outdoor performing arts permits in the Spring of 2021. If there isn’t a practical example to work from, Health Departments will be creating their guidelines in a vacuum.”

He also thanked the artists and city officials for allowing them to experiment with this festival. 

“First and foremost I want to thank the artists who are gracing us with their presence. Six months is a long time to be without access to the arts and this feels like a landmark moment in the Bay Area’s recovery,” Wood said. “I also want to thank the San Francisco Dept. of Public Health and all the other city agencies who have managed the coronavirus and protected the City while the pandemic raged in other parts of the country. We really appreciate their positive energy in guiding us to this safe reopening place.”

The festival will take place in three open air venues at Upper Fort Mason on October 24 and 25. Tickets range from $10 to $35 and they are available on the festival’s website. The program, information on the venues and the safety protocols can also be found there.