How planners are deciding to cancel or keep summer festivals in age of coronavirus

Deposit deadlines, sponsorship funds, stage rentals, band bookings and organizers' experience levels are shaping whether spring and summer festivals are being canceled months in advance or staying on the calendar in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Events including the Chocolate Fest on May 15, 16 and 17 in Long Grove; the inaugural Elgin Pride parade and festival on June 6 and 7; the Buffalo Grove Pride Parade on June 7; the Scottish Festival & Highland Games on June 19 and 20 in Itasca; and the Eyes to the Skies festival on July 4, 5 and 6 in Lisle already have been called off.

On the flip side, events including the Barrington Art Festival on May 23 and 24, the Prairie Arts Festival on May 23 and 24 in Schaumburg, the Exchange Club of Naperville's Ribfest in Romeoville, and the inaugural Naperville Salute on July 3 and 4 remain on the books as planned, with organizers expressing hopes residents will be safe, ready and willing to attend gatherings again by those dates.

"We think it's going to be an opportune time for the community to get back out and celebrate, which will probably be much-needed," said Warren Dixon, co-chairman of The Naperville Salute, a new patriotic event banking on its smaller scale and sponsorship funds already received as it plans to launch this year.

Aside from health and safety, the decision to host events hinges on the bottom line and all the items that factor into it, planners say.

Service clubs or cultural groups, such as the Scottish Fest or Eyes to the Skies, have to focus on the cause their proceeds support. These organizers say they must protect their money from going down the tubes to secure things like security or fencing for an event that might not happen.

"We just didn't want to risk losing what savings we do have, because our main goal is to give money back to the Lisle community," said Wendy Nadeau, chairwoman of the Eyes to the Skies committee, which supports parks, schools, the chamber of commerce and service clubs with festival proceeds.

ELGbtq+, also known as Elgin Pride, wanted to avoid paying for toilets, trash, street closures, city permits and police services for what would have been or not been its new parade, festival, faith service and lunch the first weekend in June, lead organizer Kayla Bates said.

"We thought it would be better to call it off sooner rather than continue to seek funding, continue letting vendors sign up and then have to cancel," Bates said.

Some experienced event management teams from private businesses or governments are riding out the state's stay-at-home order with event plans still on as scheduled.

Amy Amdur, president of Amdur Productions, puts on a season of art festivals starting with the Barrington Art Fest on Memorial Day weekend. Amdur said she's enacted a 30-day cancellation policy to decide a month in advance of each planned event whether it will go forward.

That deadline, she said, gives artists from other states time to plan their travels and gives her team ample time to advertise. The company also has pledged to refund any artist booth fees paid for events that end up getting canceled and has made its online store, called Art Zipper, commission-free for the next 6 months so artists can use it as a digital venue to sell their pieces.

"I'm encouraging them to stay safe and stay creative. I'm encouraging them to use this time to create art," Amdur said. "The arts are going to be one of the ways that we will heal more than ever."

Schaumburg also is carrying on with plans for its Prairie Arts Festival on Memorial Day weekend, in part because the team planning the 33rd event includes many people who have been involved all along, said Jack Netter, director of cultural services. Deadlines to execute contracts with performers, tent rentals and food trucks - the only outside services the smaller-scale event needs - have been extended, Netter said, so the village can take until May 1 to decide if the fest is a go.

In an event-planning industry riddled with uncertainty, vendors, performers and organizers are giving each other the benefit of the doubt - or the down payment.

Elgin Pride leaders say nearly all vendors and sponsors who paid fees or gave donations are letting the group keep their money for next year.

The same is true among performers who were set for Long Grove's Chocolate Fest. Most booked bands are allowing the deposits they've been paid to apply forward to a different event, said Jesse DeSoto with the Historic Downtown Long Grove Business Association.

Duff Rice, president of Duff Entertainment, which plans several Long Grove festivals as well as Palatine Street Fest, Scarecrow Fest in St. Charles and the Nightmare on Chicago Street in Elgin, said goodwill in the entertainment industry is helping planners make the best decisions despite virus-related uncertainties.

"Everybody has been extremely understanding and if anything, they're just as proactive as we are to say, 'Hey, look, if the event needs to cancel, we're not going to charge cancellation fees or deposits,'" Rice said. "Everybody's in this together."

Crowds gather in May 2019 at the Barrington Art Festival, which so far remains on as scheduled for May 23 and 24. Courtesy of Amdur Productions
The Eyes to the Skies festival around the Fourth of July in Lisle has been canceled, with the committee planning the event fearing the loss of money that would be donated to charities and service groups if the event were to be called off at the last minute. Daily Herald file photo July 2019
  The Scottish Festival & Highland Games in Itasca is one of several suburban events canceled months in advance by organizers in light of the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Brian Hill/ June 2019
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