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Marta Churchwell: Pandemic uncertainty throwing festival planners into disarray | Lifestyles

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Life as we have known it has slowly ground to a halt, compliments of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, we’re confined to our homes, wrangling with stir crazy kids, fashioning face masks and calculating the life span of our stock of toilet paper. In another couple of weeks, we’ll be demanding that hair salons and barber shops be declared essential businesses.

Right now, uncertainty is the only certainty we have in our lives.

The overarching uncertainty is how long this health crisis will maintain its grip on us. Will stay at home orders be lifted by summer? By fall? Even when the number of COVID-19 cases stabilizes or drops, how long will it be before we feel secure enough to return to our public routines?

Those are the questions that are gnawing at the minds of arts and fine crafts festival planners.

By March, the number of virus cases was rising so rapidly that it was evident that the plug had to be pulled for spring and early summer festivals. The annual Pierce City Arts Festival and Artsfest on Historic Walnut Street at Springfield, both scheduled for May, are just a couple that announced postponement to the fall.

Yet, it’s no sure thing that the virus all clear flag will be hoisted by fall.

Dr. Antony Fauci, our country’s leading infectious disease expert, has predicted a second wave of the virus cases this fall. Even if that doesn’t happen or it’s delayed, he’s warned that we’ll need continued limits on crowds, if we are to keep spread of the virus in check.

It’s a roll of the dice for festival organizers.

As a member of the Joplin Arts Fest planning committee, I know the difficulty of planning under a cloud of uncertainty. Do we move forward, knowing there’s still a chance of cancellation? If the festival can be held, will people be reticent about milling in a crowd or will they be chomping at the bit to be around people after months of isolation? If they come, will they have the money to spend on art, considering that unemployment is forecast to reach its highest peak in decades. For that matter, will sponsors continue to step forward if they’re feeling the crunch of a recession?

While weighing that, we must also keep our support of artists in mind.

For many artists, these festivals are their life blood, the mainstay of their incomes. They participate in several a year, sometimes traveling cross country for high exposure, high profit festivals. Even local festivals can put hundreds, even thousands of dollars in their pockets. This year, that’s especially important to them, considering their lost sales from temporary gallery closings and other events that help pay their bills.

After considering all these perspectives, the Joplin Arts Fest planning committee has decided to tentatively move forward with its 6th annual festival, set for Sept. 18 and 19 at Mercy Park. A firm decision on whether to hold the festival will be made in June.

This will be an interesting fall festival season. While there are only a handful of annual festivals each spring, the bulk of the festival year is in September and October. Virtually every weekend during those months there’s at least one festival held somewhere in Southwest Missouri.

This year, there will be a glut of festivals, considering that those already scheduled annually in the fall will be sharing weekends with those rescheduled from the spring. Already, Joplin Arts Fest is sharing its scheduled weekend with the rescheduled Springfield arts fest.

This fall festival saturation will pose a challenge to artists who have traditionally participated in both spring and fall festivals. Where will they swing their loyalty if their favored spring festivals are rescheduled to the same weekends as their favored fall festivals? Will there be enough artists to go around for all the festivals?

The Joplin Arts Fest organizers have no guess on whether there will be a reduction in the number of participating artists. Generally, the festival attracts over 50 regional artists. But, Steve Doerr, festival coordinator, says some artists have indicated that they aren’t participating in any festivals this year because they don’t trust the economy. They fear that they won’t have enough sales to cover the costs of festival fees, plus travel and related expenses.

Others are hesitant about entering because they fear they’ll get no refund on their festival fees, if there there’s a late festival cancellation. To allay such fears with the Joplin festival, organizers have pushed back deadlines for applications and fees, giving artists more time to make their decisions in the face of the health crisis. The application period has been extended from May to June and booth fees for artists accepted into the festival now aren’t due until August. If the festival is cancelled after that deadline, booth fees will either be returned to the artists or carried over to the 2021 festival.

When the coronavirus gives us little choice but to take our lives day by day, it’s difficult to think as far into the future as this fall. But, continuing to move forward with planning of these festivals, however tentative it may be, offers a reminder that there will be a day when our lives return to normal — or at least a new normal.

Stay safe, folks. And keep washing your hands

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