Once more, Edmonton’s summer season festivals should do with the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic

The organizers of Edmonton’s major summer festivals are doing their best to deal with the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Festivals like the Fringe, Heritage Festival and Taste of Edmonton all had to be canceled in 2020 and organizers don’t want it to happen again this year.

Fringe Theater Artistic Director Murray Utas isn’t sure yet what the August festival will look like this year, but he’s optimistic it won’t be the disappointment that came with last year’s cancellation.

“We will try to achieve something and bring some joy to our community, but we will do so in a very safe and responsible way,” said Utas on Thursday. “In a normal year, by this point we would be as good as planned and ready to tell the world in May.”

Edge organizers are trying to prepare for different scenarios, but the clock is ticking.

“When the end of March comes we have some choices to make and if we still don’t have the kind of start we want, well, we’re back to a place where we can say, ‘Can we? we are not?’ “Said Utas.

One of the complications is travel restrictions that could prevent artists from getting to Edmonton.

“We’ll probably be looking at a festival only for locals if these travel restrictions don’t ease,” Utas said.

The Edmonton Fringe Festival 2021 is unlikely to have such a crowd. (Edmonton Fringe Festival)

Travel is not an issue for the Taste of Edmonton food festival, but Donovan Vienneau, general manager of Events Edmonton, said it comes with challenges.

Taste of Edmonton took place on Parliament grounds in 2018 and 2019 but was canceled last year. This year, the food festival is slated to return to Churchill Square again.

“We have a pretty big room, probably the largest in history,” he said. “We also implemented a two-meter gap between each of the restaurant tents.”

Other measures include wider sidewalks and alleys, as well as less participating restaurants.

Still, Vienneau said the festival has not yet received any official notice that the event can take place. Taste of Edmonton is pending approval from the City of Edmonton, the Alberta Health Service, or the province.

“But for this festival, which will take nine months to produce, we’re working hard behind the scenes.”

Despite the unknown, Vienneau remains optimistic.

“It would be devastating if this were to close again, but for a safe and effective food festival we believe we are on the right track.”

Taste of Edmonton is expected to return to Churchill Square this year, which will allow more space to avoid scenes like this from the 2019 event. (Sheena Rossiter / CBC)

Jim Gibbon, executive director of the Edmonton Heritage Festival Association, said the Heritage Fest envisions different scenarios.

“We actually have three budgets at the same time for three different versions of the festival,” said Gibbon. The possibilities range from a virtual festival to a full event with a maximum of two thirds capacity.

“Everything depends on Alberta Health,” said Gibbon. “You have to do what you have to do, and we don’t want to be known as the Heritage Fest slash super-spreader.”

The organizers say if the Heritage Festival takes place as a full event this year, capacity will be limited to 2/3. (Rob Hislop / Edmonton Heritage Festival)

Terry Wickham, longtime producer of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, said the outlook was not good.

“I’m not assuming that 2021 will take place in any recognizable form for fans of the fair,” said Wickham. “I just can’t see 25,000 people gathering even if it’s outside.”

There is too much unpredictability with international borders and vaccines, Wickham said, adding that another cancellation would be devastating.

“That would be the worst of all scenarios because that could put us out of business forever,” he said.

“We didn’t officially rule it out, but I used the term ‘very unlikely’. Our board of directors will meet early next month and officially make the decision. “

The K-Days were canceled last year, but it seems that there is hope for 2021. The dates for this summer have been posted online and on a social media post the Northlands team, who run the event, said they are “collecting information in an attempt”. to guide decision-making related to our signature events. ”

Northlands is asking people to fill out a survey to find out how best to restart their Edmonton events.

Festivals can work, says the city manager

Edmonton city manager Andre Corbould said there is already evidence that festivals can be held during the pandemic.

“The Silver State Festival, for example, recently took place in and around [Hawrelak Park] and it was a great, successful event, “said Corbould on Thursday,” so we can move on. ”

The city will be in touch with festival organizers in the coming days and weeks to hear their needs and wants in terms of running these events, he said. “There is no doubt that we want to do these things, and if it is safe we ​​will.”

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of Health, said the number of people who receive the vaccine for COVID-19 will be of the essence.

“The more Albertans accept this offer, if they are entitled, the sooner we may consider allowing some festivals this summer – depending on the timeframe and availability of vaccines – that we couldn’t allow last summer,” said Hinshaw.

“But that again depends on some of these factors that we continue to track and monitor and so more information will come soon.”

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