Making performing arts venues healthier

Theater seats

December 21, 2023 – An effort to ensure that Harvard University’s American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) is housed in a healthy building—and to share information about how to make theaters everywhere healthier—was the focus of an article in American Artscape, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Arts.

The article, published in November 2023, featured Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Allen collaborated with Diane Paulus, artistic director of the A.R.T., on creating the Roadmap for Recovery and Resilience for Theater to help the A.R.T. and other performance spaces keep audiences, performers, and theater staffers safe. The effort had begun before the COVID-19 pandemic to help the A.R.T. plan for its new home on Harvard’s Allston campus. After the pandemic hit, Allen and Paulus decided to share information about health and safety in theaters more broadly. The roadmap, an online guide, was published less than three months after the pandemic began.

“We wanted to bring some of this science forward, recognizing [that] we have an obligation,” Allen said. “We are a university that has a school of public health and a world-class theater—there aren’t that many of them.”

The roadmap offers suggestions such as improving ventilation and filtration systems and using portable air cleaners. Allen noted that keeping the air healthier in buildings can not only minimize the spread of infectious diseases but can also help people feel better and perform more optimally.

Response to the roadmap was “terrific,” Allen said. “The feedback I got was that it was a helpful resource and helpful to have somewhere to turn [in a confusing time]. Our goal was to make it really actionable and solutions-oriented, such that any building anywhere could have been a space where you could congregate and keep risk low.”

Read the American Artscape article: Lifting the Curtain on Building Health

Learn more

Post-pandemic, an increasing focus on indoor air quality (Harvard Chan School news)

Photo: Unsplash/Kilyan Sockalingum