The 2020 Smoky Hill River Festival has been canceled due to the coronavirus after a vote by the Salina City Commission.
The cancellation comes after a recommendation by Brad Anderson, executive director of Salina Arts & Humanities. In an emotional address to the commission, Anderson said two factors make the festival possible, money and people.
"People being the most important," Anderson said.
He told the commission that projections suggest the health impact of the virus could last several months.
"(This) makes the feasibility of large gatherings such as the River Festival highly unlikely for this year," Anderson said.
Anderson said it is not possible to postpone the festival, which was scheduled for June 11-14, to a later date because of the complexity of coordinating 36 food vendors, 140 visual artists, more than 100 musicians and performers and around 2,000 volunteers. He also said it takes a long time to put together the festival each year.
"Each festival takes approximately 14 months to plan," Anderson said.
As for the financial reasons for canceling, Anderson said artists and vendors have expressed doubts to Arts and Humanities staff about the economy by the time the festival would have begun. Additionally, he said delaying the decision about the festival would have required a minimum of $15,000 in expenses within a week and twice as much in the next three weeks.
"We would prefer not to expend precious city financial resources," Anderson said.
He also said that in a typical year the festival breaks even or makes little profit.
"Earned revenue from lower attendance numbers, reduced food sales and other potential lost revenue from artists fees would further impact the city's budget," Anderson said.
Before voting, the commissioners expressed their regret to Anderson about the situation.
"I just want to say I’m sorry," said Commissioner Karl Ryan. "I can see how personally people take this...The river festival is so important to a lot of people. It’s a celebration."
Ryan also said he hoped there could still be some kind of smaller-scale festival or event in Oakdale Park when the pandemic is over, which Anderson said was possible.
Mayor Mike Hoppock also said he was sad the commission had to make that decision.
"This is a marquee event in our community," Hoppock said. "This is a great opportunity for not only our community to come together but for families to get together."
Hoppock thanked Anderson for his leadership in Arts and Humanities and for making the tough but right decision.
"It would have been easy to try to go and make this happen," Hoppock said.
Commissioner Melissa Hodges also thanked Anderson and his staff for the work they had already accomplished for this year’s festival and the work they put in the past few days leading up to this decision.
"I know...it’s a very difficult decision for you personally and professionally, but thank you on behalf of the citizens of Salina for putting the health and the welfare of our most vulnerable as our top priority," Hodges said.
In a press release from Arts and Humanities released shortly after the commission’s vote, Anderson said the decision was not made lightly.
"Unfortunately, we don’t believe that the full spirit of the festival and its wonderful celebration of the arts and community can occur in the way everyone is accustomed to, in these unprecedented times," Anderson said.
He also said in the release that Arts and Humanities understands this decision will be disappointing for many in the community.
"We know that tens of thousands look forward to the festival each and every year, and they share in our disappointment," said Anderson. "All those involved can be proud of the foundation, which has been built over 44 years of River Festival leadership, including many longtime donors and volunteers. That strong legacy will sustain us through the challenges that lie ahead."