Artis—Naples concertgoers may see some art they hadn’t planned on when they arrive for a concert aligned with The Baker Museum on Friday night: protest signs.
A group calling itself Conservative Christians of Southwest Florida has called for a 7 p.m. protest at the arts-entertainment venue. That is around the time people are arriving for its “Music of Baseball” concert, which ties into an exhibition, “Baseball Heroes,” at The Baker Museum that is part of the complex. Concertgoers can tour the exhibition before the 8 p.m. concert, which is likely to bring people early.
The protest, which centers around Artis—Naples’ new COVID-19 policy, is being promoted on the group’s Facebook page. Ariel Martinez, the vice president of the Conservative Christians of Southwest Florida, told a Fox 4 news reporter that “it’s really not about safety. It’s about control.”
But the organization has not responded to four emails, a phone message and a request to Destiny Church, where the group meets, to ask its representative to call the Daily News. (A church representative said a member of the church is the contact for the organization but it is not affiliated with the church.)
A flyer attributed to the same group is being circulated online, but is not on its Facebook page. It advocates a boycott of Artis—Naples and any other business that mandates COVID-19 safety requirements:
“Mass panic and nonsensical fear mongering are the justifications being used to wage medical tyranny against American citizens. An ideological war against our God given and constitutionally protected freedoms is currently being waged against us by the Biden administration via the form of federal vaccine mandates,” the flyer said.
“Conservative Christians of SWFL calls for the boycott of not only Artis—Naples, but every and any other business seeking to violate our innate rights. We urge you to leverage the power of your wallet against this overreach by financially castigating these decisions. Demand a refund for your existing ticket purchases and make no new purchases until such a time as this practice has been rescinded.”
The new policy requires everyone who comes onto the Artis—Naples campus to have a negative reading from a professionally administered COVID-19 test. It says it will accept a vaccination card volunteered by the customer in lieu of a test, but says what will be requested at the door is the test.
A full copy of its COVID-19 policy and safety protocols is available on its website at artisnaples.org
The protest comes at a time when there is a strong exodus from Artis—Naples, based on job openings posted on the venue’s website in the last month: at least 15 administration employees, from the position of front of house manager and personnel manager to a safety and security assistant manager. That does not include possible departures of musicians from the Naples Philharmonic.
In October the institution mandated full vaccination for both employees and volunteers, except for those with religious or medical exemptions that must be vetted by Artis—Naples.
Not all of the vacancies may be attributed to its new policy. But Artis—Naples would not grant an interview on either the boycott, the number of vacancies or provisions made for employees who refused the vaccination or were denied religious or medical exemptions. It instead released a statement:
“We are sorry to learn of the boycott. Our commitment to the collective health and safety of our patrons, visitors, musicians, guest artists, staff and volunteers is paramount. The decision to update our protocols was not taken lightly. It is our sincere hope that the new protocols will encourage increased participation and safety in all of our activities.
“We are pleased to join many of Florida’s largest arts organizations who have implemented these protocols over the last month. They include the Arsht Center, Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Norton Museum of Art, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Straz Center for the Performing Arts.”
It responded to the employee loss question with: “We cannot comment on personnel matters.”
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.