The 2020 Brandywine Festival of Arts has been canceled because organizers say they couldn’t be sure they could keep the artists, vendors and patrons safe from COVID-19.
“How do you take money at the gate while social distancing?” asked Barry Schlecker. “It’s impossible.”
The festival would have started in three weeks, on its traditional September weekend. It’s always the first weekend after Labor Day and is one of the community events that announces fall has begun.
“How do I guarantee your safety, even with a fairly large footprint, if 5,000 to 8000 people show up on a pretty day like today?” Schlecker said Thursday morning.
Yes, he could spread the artists out.
“Even if we do, there’s no way to guarantee that social distance,” Schlecker said.
State guidelines require that people wear masks in public and stay 6 feet from others who are not in their party.
“People say they will do it, but it’s not going to happen,” Schlecker said.
He says the festival is the city’s and maybe the state’s biggest two-day event, with about 15,000 people attending. It had been scheduled for Sept. 11-12.
Schlecker said he held out until the last minute hoping some treatment or vaccine might break.
Ultimately, he said, “I don’t want to produce an event that I wouldn’t go to, and ask my friends and family to go to it.”
Schlecker also said he never heard back from the city of Wilmington about his permit application to have the event in Brandywine State Park.
“So that in itself was a problem,” Schlecker said. “Even if they had given us permission, I just didn’t feel comfortable.”
He’s not the only big traditional event to cancel. The Sea Witch Festival in Rehoboth Beach and the Middletown Peach Festival canceled, too.
The arts festival, which sees sales of about $250,000 between admission, artist sales and vendors, will continue in 2021, when it will celebrate its 60th anniversary, Schlecker said. Already, 125 artists have reserved a spot. The show usually has 200 artists.
“We’re planning on doing some big things,” Schlecker teased.
First, though, he had to tell everybody the festival was off.
“I would say 90 percent of the artists that we contacted and told them we were not doing the show thanked me for not doing it, even though they are all hurting,” Schlecker said. “They thought it was a wise decision.”
One was Claymont painter Rick Phillips, a regular exhibitor who was the festival’s featured artist in 2017.
“I’m glad it’s being canceled, because of the fear of getting sick,” Phillips said in a press release. “Being able to sell my works at the festival is great, but I really want to be there next year.”
Phillips said his sales at the 2019 festival were his best ever for a weekend event.
Schlecker said one reason he was sorry to cancel was that many artists tell him that it’s their best weekend of the season, “so they depend on the income.”
They also tell him they make contacts who get in touch later and buy during the holidays.
Festival artists include painters, jewelry makers, potters, photographers, woodworkers and fabric artists, ranging from emerging artists to familiar faces. Recent exhibitors have come from at least 17 states, primarily in the mid-Atlantic region.
Schlecker said the festival generates another $250,000 in hotel room stays, restaurant meals and other spending.
It’s grown beyond an art show into a full-fledged event at which people can stay all day, with local food vendors, children’s games, musical performances and even adopt-a-pet programs, he said.
The cancellation will be another blow to the Brandywine Zoo, he said. The Zoo always charges just $1 for adult admission that day, and he’s been told it’s the zoo’s biggest attendance every year.