Artown staff announced that they plan to decide in early June whether the July event will be a go. Currently, the due date for presenter materials is pushed back to April 15.
According to the festival’s Executive Director Beth MacMillan, the organization is “hopeful.” Artown Marketing Director, Oliver X echoed the outlook, with some caveats.
“We certainly hope and are hopeful, but we also have responsibility to our sponsors, the artists themselves and literally thousands of people that are hoping as well,” said X over the phone. “There are a bunch of major benchmarks and timelines that we have to pretend are still happening, even though we don’t know what the restriction of the virus will be … we want to be prepared. It’s our duty and responsibility to have a full festival ready to go in case state and federal officials lift the social distancing and public assembly restrictions.”
Given that the festival that regularly draws more than 300,000 people over the course of a month and sometimes 4,000 at single events like concerts in Wingfield Park, social distancing still has its limitations as questions about resurgent COVID-19 transmission rates are largely unknown.
Coming off of failures like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, now the site of one of the world’s highest COVID-19 death rates after more than a million people gathered in the streets in late February, Artown does not want a repeat incident—or repeat messaging.
“What happened in New Orleans should be a cautionary tale about putting out the happy talk,” X said. “We’re positive, but the happy talk is really irresponsible, so if the public’s health and safety is not at risk, I think that our elected officials will do the right thing, at least at the state level.”
When asked whether alternate accommodations could be made to convert Artown into a virtual gathering, X responded that it would be “logistically impossible” given the current perimeters of the festival—though organizers remain open and flexible to changes, including new funding sources.
“For us to even plan the festival this year, we’ve had to do a crash course in grant writing and in government aid and relief package submittals, so I think it’s been a really good learning experience for us to be prepared for any eventuality,” X said. “I’m joining the psychic warriors and the hive mind people who are putting in good energy and staying at home, masking up, gloving up. This is flattening the curve, and it’s actually working, so it could happen. Artown could happen.”