ST. JOHNSBURY — A few people holding signs stood on the sidewalk in front of Catamount Arts on Wednesday to publicly demonstrate against what they said are exclusionary policies related to COVID-19.
“We are peacefully calling for public awareness that those who are not vaccinated, can not attend the shows/ programs there,” noted information about the demonstration on a website for Health Choice Vermont. “It actually says ‘vaccinated only’ on the brochures & show announcements. This is discrimination.”
COVID protocols found online for Catamount Arts state that attendance for any indoor Catamount event lasting longer than 15 minutes requires proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test that was administered within 72 hours of the event.
Karen Bufka, of St. Johnsbury, who held a sign stating “Arts + Inclusivity” with a heart drawn around the words, questioned the point of requiring a negative test result only from unvaccinated show attendees.
“At this point, there are so many break-through cases, why aren’t they just requiring tests for everybody?” she said.
Bufka said she invited people to gather outside Catamount to raise awareness about what she said is an issue of inclusivity in the arts.
“I mean, the arts, that’s for everybody,” she said.
She said she had not communicated with leadership at Catamount Arts to discuss their COVID protocols, but believes a conversation is needed.
“I’m only standing with the sign to invite everybody to think together because we’re all better together,” she said. “I don’t have the only answer, but they don’t have the only answer either, and I think if we were having an inclusive conversation we’d have an inclusive answer.”
Another demonstrator holding a sign stating “The Arts Should Not Discriminate,” Bart Hauser, of Newark, said he was turned away from a recent show offered by the Northeast Kingdom Classical Series for lack of vaccination or negative test result. He said through the years he has been a regular attendee of local entertainment events.
Bill Moore traveled from Johnson to stand as a demonstrator on Wednesday. His bright orange sign noted “Catamount Arts + Discrimination” and had a line crossed through the words. He said he had COVID and recovered, and the antibodies developed from getting the virus are not considered with Catamount’s admission policy.
A few honks of support were given by passing motorists.
Bufka said she has been a part of other demonstrations related to COVID vaccination requirements, but felt like the area of arts was important to draw attention to.
“The arts are just as important to us as air or water, I mean, we don’t drop dead as quickly without it, but this is part of what makes us human; it’s crucial,” she said.
Catamount Arts Executive Director Jody Fried responded to the issue of demonstrators in front of the Catamount Arts building by reiterating the policy and noting the opportunity for unvaccinated people to attend the shows.
“Unvaccinated patrons are welcome to attend with proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of showtime,” he said. “Mask wearing is required. This policy is consistent among arts organizations throughout the region and recognizes that both physical safety and community arts are vital public health resources.”
Martin Bryan, Catamount’s membership and room rental coordinator, said the arts organization has received feedback from show-goers who say they appreciate Catamount’s COVID protocols. He said one couple communicated they only attended a show because of the safety they believed was provided by the protocols.