More major events topple due to COVID-19

— Created May 20, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

When it comes to longstanding community events that define summer on Whidbey Island, it’s like the lyrics to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” just keep swirling around – “…and another one’s gone, and another one’s gone…”

Over the past week or so, the following events have fallen victim to the COVID-19 crisis: Whidbey Working Artists Summer Open Studio Tour; Whidbey Island Kite Festival; Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival; Oak Harbor Kiwanis’ Beachcombers Bazaar; Langley Street Dance; Whidbey Island Fair; Celebrate America; and Oak Harbor’s Old Fashioned Fourth of July. All of them have pulled the plug on festivities this year.

None of the aforementioned events are small – all of them draw hundreds, if not thousands, of people. The impact to the local economy will be significant. For many organizations, the cost of trying to put on events safely is too much to overcome.

“The necessary protocols to protect the health of all Fair exhibitors and attendees appears to be cost prohibitive and detrimental to the enjoyment we expect from the fair experience,” said a statement by the Island County Fair Association board of directors. “While we considered postponing to a later date, we came to the conclusion to spend the next year preparing for an amazing 2021 Whidbey Island Fair.”

“The 2020 [Coupeville Arts and Crafts] Festival would have been the 56th consecutive Festival,” said a statement from the Coupeville Festival Association. “Believing that the Arts and Crafts Festival should be a time of celebration, not anxiety, the Board did not enter into this decision lightly. Public health and safety has been and always will be a top priority. We are hard at work looking into methods to support our artisan vendors in a unique way in 2020.”

“The loss of these events will impact the income of many of the artists negatively,” said Kay Parsons, president of the Whidbey Island Arts Council, the umbrella organization for Whidbey Working Artists. “What is happening across the arts community is wrenching and not just for visual artists, but also for musicians and performing artists. It’s going to be a long haul.”

Many of these events are still weeks away, so one might wonder why they are being canceled so early. Organizers are looking at Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan and anticipating which phase could be in effect at the time of their event, making decisions based on the best case scenario.

“As America’s 244th birthday draws near, the state will only be in Phase III by July, which restricts public gatherings to no more than 50 people in one public setting,” states the press release issued by the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce regarding the cancellation of its 4th of July events. “After conversations between Island County Public Health, Island County Commissioners, Oak Harbor City public affairs, the city fire chief and with the governor’s phasing requirements for county populations over 75,000, we will not be allowed to hold gatherings over 50 people before August.”

“It was extremely sad to have to cancel so many events, but after lots of thoughtful discussion within our organization, we really felt there was no alternative,” said Michaleen McGarry, executive director of Langley Main Street Association. “The fact is, we care about the health of our community and in these unprecedented times, that means caring about one and other from a distance.”

As restrictions to the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order are slowly eased, the very events residents may have been looking forward to celebrating after this lengthy period of isolation are simply not going to happen.

“We think that a community celebration might be just what is needed, but circumstances and finances might necessitate waiting until July 2021,” said Matt Chambers, senior pastor at South Whidbey Assembly of God Church and coordinator of the Celebrate America event, which has been held July 3 in Freeland for the past 25 years.

“This is our 26th year organizing and sponsoring the event,” Chambers continued. “We’ve been working for months preparing. Recently, we’ve been cancelling the myriad of arrangements already in place. We are grateful for the hundreds of people who financially support the event, the vendors and volunteers. It really has become a wonderful community-building day.”

But Whidbey Islanders are resilient and resourceful. Already those who were planning canceled events have begun searching for alternatives. Members of the Whidbey Island Arts Council are developing the Whidbey Art and Culture Trail, for example. While still in early stages of planning, it could potentially take some of the sting out of all the disappointing postponements.

“The Trail can be crafted to comply with any COVID-19 contingency,” Parsons said. “We can promote mail order during Phase I and in Phase II we can move to appointments and curbside service.”

And while the way we do business may change, there is hope some things will be able to stay the same – sort of.

“We are still considering an event the Saturday of Labor Day weekend,” said Chambers. “It would be similar to our July 3rd event and might even be called Celebrate America. We won’t make a decision for a little while.”

“We will get through this, and as many have said already—we will get back to a new normal,” said McGarry, who highlighted LMSA’s positive messaging campaign for those visiting downtown Langley.

“In early April, Love Letters to Langley…was born out of the desire to brighten the spirits of those still downtown,” she explained. “It was a labor of love finding quotes that were inspiring and comforting, and in many cases worked for the corresponding business.”

The days of COVID-19 are difficult, to be sure. There are families among us grieving so much more than the cancellation of an event or two. Chambers reminds us this too shall pass.

“We live in a great community,” he said. “There will be opportunities in the future to gather, celebrate and cheer each other on. Whidbey Island is a showcase and we’ll have opportunity to do just that in the future.”