Jeff Beam, programming director and venue manager at One Longfellow Square, sits in the empty performance space on Tuesday. With no live performances possible, One Longfellow Square has turned to crowdfunding to stay afloat. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Many older Mainers are uncomfortable with returning to live performances in theaters and other venues until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, according to a new survey that shows the state’s struggling venues could have a difficult time attracting older patrons once they start to reopen.

Some 51 percent of people who responded to a Maine Arts Commission survey last month said they would not want to attend performances in an indoor venue until a vaccine is available, though around 60 percent said they would feel somewhat comfortable attending an outdoor performance, provided there were seats and adequate spacing.

The commission’s survey, which attracted 4,080 responses, skewed heavily toward older Mainers.

Of those responses, 79 percent were from people aged 55 and over, representing 3,172 of the 4,080 responses, said Ryan Leighton, the commission’s marketing and communications director. Fifty-eight percent of the responses were from people aged 65 and older. Less than 5 percent of respondents were under the age of 35.

Research shows that severe illness from the novel coronavirus is most common in people in their 60s and older. People older than 65 make up 21.2 percent of Maine’s population, according to U.S. Census data.

The survey also asked a number of questions regarding specific safety measures venues might enact. The top safety measures that respondents wanted included six feet of spacing between groups, limits on the number of attendees at an event, limits on how many people can be in a line for tickets or concessions and clearly outlined cleaning procedures.

Maine Arts Commission executive director Julie Richard said she hopes the information will help to inform future decisions on reopening procedures for the performing arts and for venues in Maine. The commission has provided the information to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, which is establishing reopening guidelines for businesses and organizations, and others.

While performance venues, alongside most sectors of the economy, at this point have been allowed to at least partially reopen, almost all venues remain closed, faced with the fact that there’s no end in sight to the statewide ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

Federal help in the forms of grants or loans targeted toward venues, regardless of their for or non-profit status, has stalled in Congress, alongside other new pandemic relief efforts.

The survey found that around 60 percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay a higher ticket price if it meant that a venue or performing arts group could still make money off an event with a lower number of attendees.

Once a vaccine is available, however, around 60 percent of respondents said they would return immediately to live events, while the remainder of respondents said they would return within six months.

Leighton said the survey is still open to Mainers, and the commission will continue to collect responses for the rest of August and into September.

To take the survey, visit the Survey Monkey page.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.