The San Francisco International Arts Festival presents Nkechi Emeruwa in “Licensed to Drive While Black” at 
1 p.m. Oct. 24.<ins> (Courtesy photo)</ins>

The San Francisco International Arts Festival presents Nkechi Emeruwa in “Licensed to Drive While Black” at 1 p.m. Oct. 24. (Courtesy photo)

SF International Arts fest goes on with outdoor staging at Fort Mason

Social distanced dance, music and theater slated for Oct. 24-25

Editor’s Note Oct. 19, 2020: After issues with the permits emerged, it is no longer clear that the San Francisco International Arts Festival will go forward. Patrons considering buying tickets should be advised.

After six tentative months of California’s shelter-in-place order in response to the pandemic, the annual San Francisco International Arts Festival —in tandem with The City’s COVID-19 reopening plans, hosts an eclectic mix of local performers outdoors at Fort Mason Center on Oct. 24-25.

“I want to thank the artists who are gracing us with their presence. This feels like a landmark moment in the Bay Area’s recovery,” said SFIAF Director Andrew Wood, who also thanked San Francisco’s public health and other departments for “positive energy in guiding us to this safe reopening place.”

SFIAF is taking on the large task of planning a multicultural performance and visual arts festival in the age of social distancing and masks. The festival, traditionally held in late May, hosts artists from around the world with planning starting six months in advance.

With the statewide shutdown halting production and a prolonged permit approval from the San Francisco Entertainment Commission, Wood and his staff have five weeks to transform Fort Mason’s Parade Ground, Eucalyptus Grove and Black Point Battery into places showcasing performances by about a dozen Bay Area arts groups.

“We’ve got to get everything up really fast…We didn’t think we were going to get [this festival] to happen because we were so down to the wire,” said Wood.

Wood was apprehensive about the status of the festival until The City in September began issuing permits for outdoor concerts that would accommodate up to 12 people. Knowing that a gathering of 12 wouldn’t be financially practical for both the festival and the artists, Wood requested a variance, basing his request on the fact that The City was allowing religious gatherings of up to 50 people. Audiences of 49 at Fort Mason, which is federal property operating under the National Park Service, would comply with San Francisco’s guidelines for outdoor gatherings, he argued. Though the variance was approved from The City’s Shared Spaces program, the San Francisco Public Health Department, which also must issue a variance, has not yet signed off, Wood said.

But ticket sales continue for the festival, which is slated to take place on several different stages in Fort Mason’s upper meadow, accessible from Bay Street. Programs include solo theater performances by Nkechi Emeruwa (“Licensed to Drive While Black”) and David Kleinberg (“He Wants to Run”) and musical concerts by Manos Lindas, Mission Hot Club, and the duo of harpist Amelia Romano and cellist Saul Richmond-Rakerd. Contemporary ballet’s Marika Brussel & Dancers and pateldanceworks are also slated to appear, among others.

The festival will happen on several different stages in Fort Mason’s upper meadow, accessible from Bay Street. Programs include solo theater performances by Nkechi Emeruwa (“Licensed to Drive While Black”) and David Kleinberg (“He Wants to Run”) and musical concerts by Manos Lindas, Mission Hot Club, and the duo of harpist Amelia Romano and cellist Saul Richmond-Rakerd. Contemporary ballet’s Marika Brussel & Dancers and pateldanceworks are also slated to appear, among others.

One festival objective is to demonstrate how performing arts organizations can open to the public outdoors safely. Wood is trying to create a blueprint for The City’s performing arts COVID-19 guidelines that currently don’t exist; the festival will operate under outdoor dining and gathering guidelines.

To keep tabs on potential coronavirus cases, the festival will have a box-office operation to ensure that every attendee can be instantly contact traced.

“There will be no audiences larger than 49, all the audiences will be distanced [and required] to wear masks, we will have all the artists—if they’re not part of the same household—distanced on stage, all of the staff, box office people will all be wearing personal protective equipment,” said Wood. “We will make sure that all the events are safe […] so that’s the goal.”

Wood simply wants people to gather, to attain some semblance of normalcy, even during today’s trying times. “I think it’s just being with other people, even if you can’t be as close to them as you normally are….because in the end we have to be really honest with ourselves that this is not going away. Everybody needs to be careful, but it is OK to venture outside. We just have to face up to the fact that we have to live, and we have to live carefully,” he said.

IF YOU GO

San Francisco International Arts Festival

Where: Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., S.F.

When: Oct. 24-25

Tickets: $10 to $35

Contact: (415) 399-9554, www.sfiaf.org

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that permits for the festival are issued by the San Francisco Shared Spaces program and Public Health Department, not the National Park Service.

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