Visitor Expectations Of Proof of Vaccination? – Not Yet, But Maybe Soon

People working or closely aligned with arts organizations know that a central topic of conversation in recent weeks is whether to require proof of vaccination for audiences. Drew McManus has been tracking and collecting this information closely for a few weeks now.

As has Colleen Dilenschneider and her colleagues at IMPACTS. All through Covid she has been regularly updating her readers on shifts in perspectives on the question of what will make people feel safer about attending arts events as well as when they think they will feel comfortable participating in arts experiences. In her September 15 entry, she reviews survey findings about vaccinations. 

If you have been reading my blog or her’s for the last year, you will know that at one time attendees wearing masks wasn’t on the list of responses people gave and then suddenly it was in the top five. She says the same has happened with vaccine requirements.

It is worth paying very close attention to her analysis because she goes to pains to warn against letting biases and assumptions lead you to conclusions not borne out by the data.

But “requiring proof of vaccination” is the new factor to watch here. Remember that just because people say that it will make them feel safer doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t visit if it’s not enforced – or even that they think it should be enforced yet. That said, the fact that 56% of visitors to performance-based organizations report that proof of vaccination requirements will make them feel safer is particularly notable. This safety preference may impact performance-based organizations first if these data offer any prescient insights.


As we’ve been reminding folks upon watching the data outcomes over time, people with kids under 13 in the household, as a group, were never cool with discarding masks. Kids are getting the virus and some predictions are grim. This may be one of the reasons why intentions to visit cultural organizations among people with children were lower during the time in which masks were no longer required.

She specifically addresses how easy it is to default to survivorship bias and availability heuristic:

Remember that this research contemplates potential visitors, not just recent visitors. “That’s not what we’re observing in our onsite surveys” is a silly response to this information if you don’t require proof of vaccination onsite. The people who don’t feel safe visiting aren’t there to fill out an onsite survey. They are likely staying home.


Most typically, we hear confirmation bias statements justifying and reconciling powerlessness over mask mandates, like “it’s a good thing we don’t require them because someone thanked us for being mask-free!” This is also an example of an availability heuristic when we mistake anecdotal evidence as representative data. People who don’t want masks may feel strongly about it and speak up, but those who do want mask mandates – a majority of US likely visitors to cultural entities – probably don’t think that they need to thank you for keeping them safe. Just because a group is loud doesn’t mean they are representative.

All this being said, in terms of the overall question about whether cultural organizations should require proof of vaccination, she writes that the answer isn’t currently clear but that “‘…the data suggests that the answer is “not yet…but maybe soon.'”

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “Visitor Expectations Of Proof of Vaccination? – Not Yet, But Maybe Soon”

  1. I went to an indoor theater performance last weekend, for the first time since Jan 2020. The theater was requiring masks and proof of vaccination (and were turning people away who forgot to bring their proof). The theater was only about ⅓ full, as old folks (theater audiences) are still not comfortable with crowded in-person events, even with all the precautions. Even my wife decided that it was too risky (though we have one of the lowest case rates per capita in the US).

  2. I attended a concert this week at an outdoor venue in the Washington DC metro area. It was our first concert since the pandemic, despite being regular opera, orchestra, and concert attendees. While we were more comfortable attending due to the venue itself being an outdoor amphitheatre with open air/covered roof seating and lawn seating, the primary driver for our visit was the newly implemented vaccination requirement (proof required at entry), and required masks for any seats under open roof (not required for lawn). Everyone knew the rules in advance of attending and all were compliant. As you indicated, part of the driving force of our consideration is being a family with young children who are not eligible for the vaccine. As such, all our decisions are made with this filter in mind. Attending performances is only now possible because our local venues have implemented proof of vaccine requirements as well as fully-masked requirements. We are grateful to return to the performance hall again with these safety precautions in place!


Leave a Comment