Re-Open Outdoor Performing Arts

Planning for SFIAF 2021

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The theme for SFIAF 2021 is
IN DIASPORA: ID for the New Majority

San Francisco International Arts Festival
2021 Citywide Program Ideas

In response to the coronavirus pandemic San Francisco International Arts Festival (SFIAF) has conducted interviews and / or held conversations with over 100 Bay Area based performing artists. Staff have also attended / participated in online industry gatherings where many leaders in the field have expressed their opinions and ideas. Finally, along with the rest of the population, we have listened to the public and pundits on (mostly progressive) mass media channels and kept up with comments on arts oriented social media platforms.

Several themes have been recurring and prominent:

  • Recovery for the performing arts is going to be measured in years rather than months (if it ever goes back to “normal” at all).

  • Even with social distancing being put into place (that is going to reduce venue capacities by between 50% - 75%), There is no guarantee that audiences (particularly seniors) are in a hurry to rush back into dark rooms to share oxygen with a group of strangers. A speaker at one industry gathering pointed out that the risk of COVID-19 infection increases “by an order of magnitude” in enclosed spaces.

  • Artists identify themselves as leaders and / or intermediaries that see a unique role for live arts as part of the healing process for a traumatized population--and integral in supporting the protests for justice of an angry one.

  • Artists are very willing to bring live performing arts to the people “where they are” rather than requiring the public to travel to a designated hub to experience the arts.

  • Artists also advocate for exploring a “new normal” in a post COVID-19 world that sees the arts emphasizing access and equity in the service of audiences and communities. There is a need for rethinking the business of presenting that brings the performing arts to a broader segment of the population.

In San Francisco one solution that presents itself as a way of recognizing and responding to as many of the above listed conditions as possible is to initiate and coordinate hundreds of discrete outdoor performances in neighborhood-serving open spaces.

In 2021, as a way to respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic, San Francisco International Arts Festival will present live performances in outdoor public settings (where both participating artists and members of the public are less likely to become infected by attending and where social distancing is easier to achieve). The program will take place at venues throughout the city that have the capacity to present the work of multiple artists and ensembles working in multiple disciplines.

Locations will include parks, public thoroughfares and “slow-streets”, large tracts of publicly owned land as well as private properties with agreeable owners that can meet the public health criteria for socially distanced performances.

We are looking for:

  • Work that can transfer well to an outdoor stage. Expressive, dynamic and logistically portable/simple. Not overly reliant on visual technology (e.g. lights, video, projections) or large sets and props to make an impact.

  • Venues will include parks, public thoroughfares and “slow-streets”, large tracts of publicly owned land as well as private properties with agreeable owners that can meet the public health criteria for socially distanced performances.

  • Site specific performances – with an emphasis on buildings, landmarks and/or objects that, through their attendance at the performance, the audience can re-imagine the symbolism, purpose and / or significance of the site.

  • Mobile and “travelling” performances that have artists take audience members on tours and durational performance art that take place in non-conventional and open air settings.

  • Performance works that make creative use of live-streaming and virtual reality platforms.

We are still working on the dates for 2021 (it is increasingly looking like early autumn). If you are a Bay Area based performing artist and you have an idea for a project and / or if you are interested in being part of a working group that is further defining the priorities and ideas listed above, please send an email to or call the SFIAF office at 415-399-9554.

San Francisco International Arts Festival
Phone Number: 415-399-9554 | Email:
870 Market Street, Suite 1258, San Francisco, CA 94102