A look back at the Delta-to-Omicron year for The City’s leading arts institutions

Pandemic life is hard, but San Francisco artists speak of hope and resilience

The year that began in limbo with COVID-19’s delta variant ended with omicron spreading and petrifying the world. Yet ever-resilient San Francisco “opened its Golden Gate” to music, dance and theater once again, while facing the possibility of new pandemic restrictions or closures as they become a reality in Europe and on the East Coast.

Dec. 10 served as a milestone in 2021, with San Francisco Ballet’s historic and requisite “Nutcracker” production opening at the War Memorial Opera House. That weekend signaled the revival of the Civic Center, with full houses for first time since Mayor London Breed implemented the nation’s first COVID shutdown on March 17, 2020.

And so, after more than 600 painful days of closures and putative temporary, limited reopenings, it was “old times” crowds in Davies Hall (SF Symphony), Herbst Theatre (Adlers), Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the War Memorial Green Room and the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera (SF Opera Chorus), reminiscent of — but not making up for — the nonprofit arts and culture industry’s normal generation of $1.45 billion in annual economic activity in The City, supporting 39,699 full-time equivalent jobs.

Still, the future is in doubt, pending on the fight against virus variants. In addition to great individual financial losses, in the current fiscal year, The City anticipated generating $25.9 million for the arts via the hotel tax but collected only $3.9 million, as tourism nosedived due to the pandemic. A major effort by The City to support artists netted $1,000 monthly stipends to 130 people among the thousands in need.

SF Opera’s operating budget had a historic drop from $78.5 million to $55 million, now slowly recovering as the company is getting ready to celebrate its centennial next season.

The present still reflects problems — such as the first six rows in Herbst kept empty to deal with the possible 20-foot breath projection between the fully vaccinated singers and the audience.

The past weighs heavily emotionally, financially, every way, but artists find a way to deal with it. San Francisco Playhouse co-founder and producing director Susi Damilano, who is stage director for the current production of the musical version of “Twelfth Night,” says:

“This has been the longest ‘year’ of my life, one where all the life lessons about staying present and flexible and finding the way through have tested me over and over and over. What I am realizing, slowly, is that this is life. Nothing is guaranteed, except change. And how truly blessed I am to be healthy and surrounded by so many loving, brave and wonderful people to share this crazy journey.”

Artists and organizations made heroic efforts to continue performing, even while their subsistence was at risk. SF Opera had been without a home before, but during the War Memorial’s post-Loma Prieta quake reconstruction, there were other facilities available. This time, unable to perform indoors, the Opera improvised with a drive-in production in Marin of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”

Compared with the performing arts, museums had an earlier reopening. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, SFMOMA, the Asian Art Museum and others, by limiting attendance and requiring face masks, were able to return to a measure of normalcy. SF Symphony had a much harder time, even when allowed to reopen Davies Hall.

One of the most memorable events during recovery was the Symphony’s return to concerts on May 6, when many of the 360 invited guests, scattered throughout the 2,743-seat Davies Symphony Hall, fought back tears after a 14-month absence. Navigating the stormy narrows of crisis health regulations, the Symphony announced: “San Francisco has moved into Yellow Tier; a decision has officially been made to open Davies Symphony Hall to 50 percent capacity starting with the concerts on May 13 and 14.”

Health and travel regulations ended the normal circulation of artists by the thousands from everywhere to The City and of local performers to other parts of the country and overseas. And yet, one of the best known local globe-trotting stars, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, who rarely left the Bay Area during the pandemic, finds optimism with a long view: “This year makes me think of two visits to sing in Prague during the Cold War and the aftermath of the Prague Spring. The first was when the country was shut down following the Russian invasion. Not many shops were open, not many people walking around. Then I went back a few years later and it was full of glitter and light and sound and joy. I felt so lucky to have witnessed the transformation.”

von Stade adds, “That’s how I feel about this year. Hope came galloping in with bright lights and music and we’re able to celebrate the actions of so many heroes, health heroes, and music heroes and just human heroes. I feel even more blessed today than before the pandemic with all its lingering effects.”

Why a Real Emotional Support Animal Letter Matters.

The popularity of an Emotional Support Animal has grown rapidly in recent years, with pet owners claiming their furry friends…

By SF Examiner
Robbed shopkeeper says San Francisco is so broken it needs Batman

The Deli Board’s Adam Mesnick is sick and tired of SOMA crime

Redwood forest in California is returned to native tribes

523 acres will be transferred to 10 tribes whose ancestors were forcibly removed from the land