The City of Baltimore canceled its Fourth of July fireworks show, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts announced Tuesday.
But Donna Drew Sawyer, BOPA’s CEO, said fireworks could return to the Inner Harbor for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
”We have been in close communication with the city, and unfortunately, there will not be July 4th fireworks,” Sawyer said. ”But we are hoping that we will have fireworks that will welcome in the New Year.”
She made her comments Tuesday during a Downtown Partnership of Baltimore webinar on the return of live audiences to popular entertainment events after the pandemic.
”The city has decided not to put us all at risk,” Sawyer said. “The one thing we wouldn’t want to be is a super-spreader event. But, we’ll figure out a way to bring that excitement back.”
Fireworks have been an annual part of the city’s New Year’s celebration at the Inner Harbor, though the sky-brighteners were canceled last year.
Sawyer added that though Artscape also was a casualty this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Free Fall Baltimore, which features a month-long slate of free arts and cultural events, will return as scheduled in October.
Planning for Artscape takes a full year, and while BOPA’s staff initially considered delaying the art festival until the fall, they couldn’t figure out how to pull off two major events within months of one another.
”My staff is amazing, but they can’t clone themselves,” Sawyer said. ”We could not get two major events going at exactly the same time, so we thought it best to go forward with Free Fall.”
Artscape was entirely virtual last summer, but Sawyer said that wasn’t an option for 2021.
”While we had some success, it’s not the same environment as being there,” she said. “Artscape is a physical thing.”
But other events are taking what Sawyer described as “intermediate steps” towards resuming normal life.
For instance, this year hot food is once again permitted at Baltimore’s farmers markets.
Sawyer added that the break has given festival organizers a chance to reboot, to think through what works and what doesn’t ”so we can return stronger than ever.”
As she put it: ”The pandemic has given us the opportunity to stand back and dim the lights a little at the festivals and say, ‘These are the things that made the festivals great: the artwork and the talent. The individual elements, the art is the focus, and not just the shine of the festivals.”
Live concerts are tentatively planned to resume in September at Power Plant Live, which has the “unique advantage” of a covered outdoor arena that lessens the chance of infection, according to Sal DiGiorgio, property manager for The Cordish Companies.
He said that social distancing at a concert might include spreading picnic tables farther apart and seating two or perhaps three patrons at each table instead of the four these tables held in the past.
Large indoor venues such as the Hippodrome Theatre face an additional challenge. Even when they are legally allowed to reopen, it might not be feasible economically to produce a show if attendance is severely restricted.
”Broadway’s model is unfortunately not a socially distant model,” said Ron Legler, the Hippodrome’s president. “We don’t even break even with a Broadway show unless 85% of the tickets are sold.”
The Hippodrome plans to resume showing touring Broadway musicals around Thanksgiving.
Among other innovations aimed at making live theater safe for audiences, the Hippodrome is looking into installing a $350,000 air filtering system initially developed for hospitals.
It is creating an app that will allow customers to purchase touch-free tickets or order a pre-show drink from their phones. The app also could notify patrons if, for example, heavy traffic delayed the start of a performance.
”I think there is a hunger for culture, a hunger for the arts,” Legler said.
But he acknowledged that the urge to resume attending shows in person can conflict with fears that crowds carry an increased risk for exposure to Covid-19.
“It’s going to be a slow start,” he said. “But, once we start that engine rolling and get it going again, that will become less and less true.
”But we have to begin. We have to make a start.”