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Major Md. events face tough decisions amid COVID-19 outbreak

Artscape, the nation's largest free arts festival, is overseen by BOPA, which announced a new CEO Wednesday.(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Artscape, the nation’s largest free arts festival, has not made a decision yet on whether to postpone or cancel the July event. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Major festivals and events throughout Maryland initially slated for later in the year have already postponed or canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, while the fates of several more prominent gatherings remain in limbo.

Organizers of some of the biggest events in the region continue to wait and see if they’ll be able to hold events as planned, reschedule, or pack it in in hopes of returning next year. Ramifications of those decisions, however, go beyond disappointing visitors and participants and hold the potential to rob businesses and government of millions of dollars in revenues.

Baltimore’s Artscape is among the festivals with an uncertain future. It’s dealing with a shrinking timeline to make a decision on whether  to cancel.

One of the nation’s largest free arts festivals, the event, held every July in the city for nearly 30 years, attracts roughly 350,000 people over three days in July and produces an economic impact of about $28.5 million.

Roughly 10 weeks before the event is set to happen, however, the event’s fate remains undecided, according to organizers. A spokeswoman for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts said there’s no update regarding Artscape’s status. Currently, the event’s website states that it is still happening July 17-19.

“We are in the process of coordinating with the City of Baltimore and hope to have information soon,” according to an email from the spokeswoman.

Another event with an uncertain future, with major implications for businesses and government, is the Preakness Stakes.

Three years ago, 140,327 people attended the race. Race-day operations generated $10 million in direct expenditures, supporting roughly 180 full-time jobs, and $14.3 million in salaries associated with 500 full-time equivalent jobs.

Before the coronavirus outbreak the Preakness Stakes was slated to run on May 16. In March, due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the Maryland Jockey Club postponed the event and canceled a concert held on the infield as part of race day activities.

In the intervening weeks the Maryland Jockey Club has yet to set a new race date, and on Tuesday the organization reiterated its stance from March. The club along with media partners and local government, according to a statement, continue to search for the best time to host the race.

“While we are mindful of the challenges these times present, we also know that events like the Preakness Stakes can help restore our sense of place and economic well-being to our communities and state. As soon as we have further clarity on these matters we will inform all,” according to the statement.

Making decisions regarding the future of festivals and sporting events prior to the start of summer may feel premature. But other large events set for later in the year have already been canceled.

The National Folk Festival, originally scheduled for September in Salisbury, said in late April it was dropping plans to hold festivities in 2020 and hopes to return to the Eastern Shore in 2021.

“As we look ahead into 2020 and the uncertain future that COVID-19 presents, we realize that the community effort required to support an event of the scope of the National Folk Festival should be refocused to the immediate needs of all of our partners and participants, no matter their location during this global crisis,” according to a joint statement from the festival organizer and Salisbury Mayor Jake Day.

It’s not just major events that remain in limbo. Other summer and spring gatherings, while not the size of Artscape of Preakness, also face uncertain futures. Some, like the Antique and Classic Boat Festival in St. Michaels , initially set to run over Father’s Day weekend, have already been canceled.

The fate of one of the most popular local events, HONFest in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood, currently remains in doubt only about a month from its scheduled dates of June 13 and June 14.

Attempts to contact Denise Whiting, the festival’s founder and owner of Café Hon, were unsuccessful. But she recently told online news outlet Baltimore Fish Bowl, that she’s not sure if she’ll be able to host the event.

The fate of other events, like the Maryland Wine Festival scheduled for the Carroll County Farm Museum in September, are harder to determine. The event’s website still lists it as set for September, but organizers did not respond to multiple requests for updates on the event’s future.

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