After originally being rescheduled to later in summer, the Ithaca Festival has been officially canceled for 2020 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Festival leaders do currently plan on having the festival in 2021.
The annual event, one of the biggest in the county each year, is usually held in late May but in early April organizers announced that it had been postponed until August.
The festival's new leader, Selena Hodom, said in an interview that if organizers continued to plan the event, but were unable to actually put on the festival in August due to public health restrictions, it would be perilous for Ithaca Festival's long-term survival. The festival has already struggled with its financial well-being over the last several years.
"With the health guidelines that are still in place we would have been attempting an August event with the hope that it could happen," Hodom said. "The financial impacts if we ultimately would not be able to produce the event could be dire to the festival. We thought it best to use this year to re-group and strengthen the festival for the future."
Leaders had considered pushing the festival back a few more months into autumn, but that presented riskier weather possibilities and potentially infringing on the Apple Harvest Festival that's held in late September. Hodom additionally said that it felt inappropriate to be asking for support for the festival from local sponsors when businesses are struggling so much because of the effects of COVID-19.
"There is a concern about asking for community support in this troubling time for a lot of our businesses," she said. "With a lot of businesses closing or still trying to come out of this pandemic, they simply do not have the capacity to sponsor, advertise or participate in the Ithaca Festival this year. We want to be sure what we are doing puts our community above all else."
The 2020 cancellation means that the festival will have to layoff staff members in order to "cut all expenses to ensure the future," and enter "survival mode," according to Hodom. The time between now and the next festival will be dedicated to fundraising to ensure the event's stability.
While the cancellation is a shame for locals, it's also a detrimental blow for downtown businesses and the local art community, both of which benefit greatly from the festival. The draw of the festival brings thousands of people to spend money downtown during the lean summer months when students are away, and there really isn't a more prominent local public arts celebration than Ithaca Festival. Festival organizers might be setting up a virtual art gallery and online live art classes over the summer.
"Currently, the focus will be on fundraising and supporting art and the artists within the community as much as we can this year without a full on festival," Hodom said. "The approach for the 2021 festival will remain the same. If there are health and safety issues that need to be addressed, we have time to formulate something that will be in the best interest of the health and safety of the community."