FAIRHOPE – City Council members plan to postpone the Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival from mid-March until at least the end of April due to COVID-19 precautions.
Officials supporting the delay said that date is tentative, and the event could be pushed back further or canceled if the pandemic continues. The council voted in 2020 to call off the festival for that year due to the coronavirus.
Members of the Arts and Crafts Committee asked the council Monday to delay the March 19 opening of the 2021 event.
“Obviously we thought we could get around this by doing an all-Alabama show and staying within the restrictions and guidelines,” Laura English, a committee member, told the council. “However, that hasn’t quite happened the way we would want it to.”
Mayor Sherry Sullivan, chairwoman of the festival, said city officials and committee members realized that the event should be postponed in the interest of public safety.
“Festival volunteers begin planning this event months in advance, and while we all hoped throughout the planning process that we would be able to hold the event, we were simultaneously preparing for the possibility of cancelation or rescheduling,” Sullivan said in a statement. “It was a tough decision because we know how much the event means to our community and the economic impact to our local small businesses that have had a rough twelve months. Fortunately, we feel that by rescheduling the festival and enlisting additional safety policies and procedures, we will be able to host this time-honored tradition in the coming months.”
Jodi Keating, a committee member, said organizers still plan to require social distancing and other precautions at the festival on the new date.
“Our primary concern is the citizens of Fairhope, absolutely,” Keating told council members. “We are absolutely on board with that. We also know that our downtown businesses are hurting. Our artists are hurting. So, we’re just trying to do the responsible thing.”
English said new dates for the festival are limited. Summer is too hot. Many other festivals take place in the fall, which could create scheduling conflicts for some participating artists.
“Also, it takes us about six or seven months, just to do the festival,” English said. “So, our plan is to have a full-fledged festival next March and in order to be doing that, we’d be right on top of each other.”
Council President Jack Burrell said he would support a resolution to close the streets for the event at the new date but said those plans could change if the pandemic continues. He said the city has canceled several events, including the Christmas parade, New Year’s Eve celebration, Mardi Gras parades and 2020 Arts and Crafts Festival, after giving initial approval in the last year.
“So when we say we’re planning to do something, all of us, the five of us up here, the Arts and Crafts Committee and the mayor all realize that’s a plan and nothing is written in stone in this day and age,” Burrell said. “We do understand that there is a raging pandemic, and while we don’t want to reschedule it, we always have that option.”
Burrell said the council would vote on the changed date on Feb. 22. Three council members said they would support the new date.
Councilman Corey Martin said he could not vote to hold the festival this spring.
“I just want to remind everybody that the art festival would be a gathering and unfortunately, grownups are hard-headed,” Martin told committee members. “This is not against you all. I understand you’re trying to follow the CDC rules, but our job is to look out for the whole masses and in my opinion, that wouldn’t be a good idea because people are not going to follow the rules.”
He said COVID-19 cases spread in Fairhope after another public event, the Lighting of the Trees in November.
“We tried to have gatherings before and we saw in November what happened,” Martin said. “By empirical evidence, we witnessed it and we had a super-spread in Fairhope. We were at four deaths and now we’re up over 50, maybe 60 now.”
Councilman Jimmy Conyers said he was “on the fence,” about holding the festival in the spring.
“I really think it may be too soon,” Conyers said. “I just hate to have people running around and working on something that I think is a 50-50 coin toss at best right now, but if that’s what y’all think the committee would prefer to do, I certainly understand that, but I think that we’re still a long ways from being out of the wood on this and definitely March 19 is a no-go and I really don’t know that four or five weeks after that is going to be any different on that.”
Councilman Kevin Boone said the city should move ahead with the festival on the new date.
“I am leaning that way,” Boone said. “These businesses need to get open. We need to have some people and if you feel nervous about coming up there and getting exposed then I suggest don’t come, but to run this thing in fear and not support this town, I think is wrong. If you feel uncomfortable, then just don’t come to the show. If you come to the show, then be prepared to wear a mask and to keep your distance.”