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May 1, 2021

Planning for a Safe Return (May Update)


Audience Entering Hill Auditorium

In early March, we shared initial findings from our Southeast Michigan audience research, administered by leading arts researcher WolfBrown and sponsored by CultureSource.

As part of the study, UMS and two dozen arts organizations across Southeast Michigan are surveying audiences every other month for updated insights into what they expect when returning to venues for live performances. In total, more than 300 organizations across the country are participating in this research.

Here is a summary of the latest we’ve learned from participating audience members (as of mid-April 2021):

The Vast Majority of our Audience is Already Vaccinated

As of April 16, 94% of UMS audience members surveyed are at least partially vaccinated (and 69% are fully vaccinated). These rates are consistent with arts attendees across the country who overall have an extremely high rate of vaccination. This is a significant increase since our February survey, as shown below:

April Vaccine Growth

Rates of vaccination are high across age ranges of surveyed UMS audience members:

April Vaccination across Ages B

Masking and Distancing Remain Important Issues

Consistent with our February survey, the three most important health and safety topics to audiences in thinking about a return to live, in-person performances remain:

  • Mask-wearing requirements
  • Distancing requirements & how seating will work
  • Ventilation quality and airflow

When 2021/22 Season Tickets go on sale, please note that seating will work slightly differently this year.

  • Because of the potential for seating capacity restrictions to change, we will assign both subscription and single ticket seats for individual performances no later than one month before each performance, based on the seating section and original order date.
  • Our production and patron services team are developing clear plans and protocols in consultation with public health officials at the University of Michigan, with additional guidance from the State of Michigan.
  • We promise that we will always prioritize health and safety as we move back to in-person events.

Michigan’s April Surge Raised Caution

Given the April COVID-19 surge in Michigan, we are seeing more caution about when UMS audiences expect to return to live performances, with half indicating they will be ready to return in September, and 70% by December.

When UMS’s full 2021/22 Season is announced in May, you will notice that our mainstage, indoor events are not planned to resume until the final weekend of November.

Audiences are Mostly Optimistic

When asked about long-term attendance of arts and cultural activities, 87% of UMS audience members surveyed in April indicated that they expect to attend events at a similar or increased frequency as they did pre-pandemic. This is slightly lower than the 90% recorded in our February survey, before Michigan’s latest case surge.

Audience feedback included from the April survey included:

“I think it will be a matter of making up for the time we all missed during the pandemic. I think people will seize the day more than they used to, which means I would likely go to more exciting events than before.”

“Basically, you don’t know what you have ’til it’s gone, right? The pandemic has made me realize that I want culture and music to be a bigger part of my life. And I want to help arts organizations recover from the financial impact of the pandemic.”

“I am not comfortable attending large events seated next to people that may not have been vaccinated or not honoring physical distancing.”

Digital Access Remains a Priority

More than half of UMS audiences (and more than 75% of UMS donors) have enjoyed digital programming over the past year; and 70% of surveyed audiences feel that digital will play a role in their future arts consumption.

As we approach the 2021/22 season, we want to assure you that our commitment to accessible digital events will continue, again at no cost. We’re planning for a variety of digital experiences: some that will enhance our live events and some that will stand alone in the digital space — with a few surprises along the way.

Remember, your voice is important to us!

If you receive an invitation to participate in an upcoming return to theaters survey from UMS and other presenters, please consider doing so! These surveys are happening across two dozen arts organizations in Southeast Michigan, allowing us to gauge perceptions across the region and helping us plan for what is most important to you as we move forward.

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