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OKC's Festival of the Arts to return in summer after its COVID-19 cancellation in 2020

People look at artwork displayed in a row of tents along Colcord Drive at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]
People look at artwork displayed in a row of tents along Colcord Drive at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]

A version of this story will appear in Tuesday's The Oklahoman. 

Downtown Oklahoma City's long-running Festival of the Arts will return 2020 COVID-19 cancellation

Downtown Oklahoma City's long-running Festival of the Arts will return this year after it was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

But the six-day event billed as OKC's "rite of spring" will be shifting to summer to give more time for coronavirus vaccines to be distributed and for organizers to redesign the sprawling festival according to CDC guidelines.

While the festival traditionally takes place the last full week of April, the 2021 edition is planned for June 22-27.

"Yes, it's a rite of spring, but it's also a rite of Oklahoma City. In a way, it will be a coming-out party from under the strain and stress of what we've been through this last year," said Peter Dolese, executive director of the Arts Council Oklahoma City, which organizes the festival.  

“Moving the event to June this year is the right decision for the festival and for the community."

Oklahoma musician Peter Markes plays on the Colcord Lawn at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]
Oklahoma musician Peter Markes plays on the Colcord Lawn at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]

Summertime first

The Arts Council OKC board approved a plan to shift the 55th annual Festival of the Arts to summer for the first time at a meeting Monday afternoon, Dolese said.

"(It's) never been done before and prayerfully will never be done again. Really, it's a big deal to move it. It's always been in April; it's never been any other month ... or even a day in May,"  Dolese told The Oklahoman.

"I don't know how to describe how weird it feels. ... But at the same time, it's such a tradition and it's so important for that event to go on. I think we really need to have it, and I'm thrilled that we're actually entertaining having the event, even in June."

The nonprofit organization is working closely with the City of Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City-County Health Department to plan a festival that will be safe as well as fun, free and family-friendly, Dolese said.

"No one will be allowed on the grounds without a mask, and if you don't have a mask on and you're not willing to wear one, you'll be escorted off the grounds," he said.

"For this particular year, when the kids go into the kids' area, they'll have sealed art supplies handed to them that will be theirs and theirs alone. They'll do their art project on a table that's an 8-foot-long table and only four people will be allowed to sit at it spread out ... and when they leave, they'll take their art supplies with them or (the supplies will) be thrown out."

Sadie Gokey, 6, eats chicken on a stick along the Couch Drive food row at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]
Sadie Gokey, 6, eats chicken on a stick along the Couch Drive food row at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]

Expanded grounds

For the past several years, the downtown OKC festival has taken place at Bicentennial Park, on Colcord and Couch drives and on the west lawn of City Hall.

Changes to this year's event also include the expansion of the festival grounds to the east lawn of City Hall and onto Patience Latting Drive to allow more room for participants and attendees to spread out and practice social distancing.

The familiar International Food Row tents will stay folded up in storage this year; instead, organizers intend to more safely satisfy festivalgoers' cravings by spacing out food trucks over three blocks along Colcord, Couch and the Patience Latting circle drive.

Festival favorites like the face painting booth, the Young at Art Mart and the culinary arts demonstration tent will be skipped over this year due to safety concerns, Dolese said. Plus, the event will have fewer stages since school will be out, making it difficult to gather the usual lineup of school performing arts groups.

Still, Dolese said he hopes festivalgoers will be happy to find some of their familiar festival favorites - from Pottery Place and the Children's Art Field to the Sculpture Park and the 144 artist tents - even in the summer. All accepted visual artists from the canceled 2020 festival have been invited to participate in this year's event.

"I think that it's appropriate for us to have a Festival of the Arts, and it's unfortunate that we have to move it. But it's also pretty fortunate that we get to have it at all," Dolese said.

Artist Mike Nemnich sits in his tent at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]
Artist Mike Nemnich sits in his tent at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]

Sign of normalcy

Last year marked just the second time the Festival of Arts has been canceled in its half-century history: The other was in 1995 when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred just days before the event was set to begin.

"Oklahoma City without the Festival of the Arts doesn't feel like Oklahoma City - and that's among the many reasons that this last year has felt like a lost year for many of us. ... The Festival of the Arts is a major cultural event in our city, and its return will certainly, I think, bring with it a return to normalcy in our community that is very welcome and very much missed," OKC Mayor David Holt said.

"I trust the Oklahoma City-County Health Department on these things, and I know they've been in close contact with the Festival of the Arts and that they're pleased with the plan. It sounds like it will work, and of course, it will be exciting to be able to welcome the Festival of the Arts back, albeit in a slightly modified form."

With the festival dates six months away and vaccine distribution under way, Holt said he is confident that the outdoor event will be able to proceed safely.

"It's hard to say that today: I still have over 600 people in the hospital right now for COVID-19. ... We still have some hard work to do. We've got to get these vaccines out; we've got to continue to use precautions in the meantime," Holt told The Oklahoman. "Nobody's partying today, but you can imagine, realistically, a world where things have returned to some semblance of normalcy, and I think for sure, by the second half of 2021, that's a realistic hope."

The state Health Department reported Monday that more than 322,800 coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered so far in Oklahoma, including more than 41,000 people who have received the requisite two doses. The state has been supplied 496,350 vaccine doses to date.

"When the festival was originally scheduled in 2020, it was right at the beginning of this. We were sheltering in place at the time ... but as the pandemic proceeded, we did start to have some outdoor events," Holt said. "We've learned how to do outdoor events safely, so it's appropriate that we pursue this for 2021. I think it's worth delaying as they are because that way we've got even more vaccinations in place by that point in June, and you can have an even greater sense of normalcy, hopefully, by the time that the festival arrives. Even still, they're taking precautions, and it's not going to be run exactly as it was in the past."

With an attendance of an estimated 100,000 festivalgoers per day, the Festival of the Arts has an economic impact of about $18.5 million for the community.

"I'm a pretty firm believer that the second half of 2021 is going to be an explosion of energy and economic activity," Holt said. "This is a great symbol of that: The Festival of the Arts is one of our city's primary events ... and even though it may return in a different part of the year than we're used to this time, I think it will be a great symbol of our emergence from the pandemic."

Miguel Razo look at Brett McDanel's metal sculpture titled"The Devil You Know" at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]
Miguel Razo look at Brett McDanel's metal sculpture titled"The Devil You Know" at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]

GOING ON

Festival of the Arts 2021

When: June 22-27.

Where: Downtown Oklahoma City.

Updates and information: www.artscouncilokc.com.

Features Writer Brandy "BAM" McDonnell covers Oklahoma's arts, entertainment and cultural sectors for The Oklahoman and Oklahoman.com. Reach her at bmcdonnell@oklahoman.com, www.facebook.com/brandybammcdonnell and twitter.com/BAMOK. Please support work by her and her colleagues by subscribing at oklahoman.com/subscribe 

-BAM



Related Photos
People look at artwork displayed in a row of tents along Colcord Drive at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]

People look at artwork displayed in a row of tents along Colcord Drive at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-38258beaa78c928814a2cb5ef6498843.jpg" alt="Photo - People look at artwork displayed in a row of tents along Colcord Drive at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]" title="People look at artwork displayed in a row of tents along Colcord Drive at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]"><figcaption>People look at artwork displayed in a row of tents along Colcord Drive at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-63beea6b25db221fda61dbde285ef902.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma musician Peter Markes plays on the Colcord Lawn at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]" title="Oklahoma musician Peter Markes plays on the Colcord Lawn at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]"><figcaption>Oklahoma musician Peter Markes plays on the Colcord Lawn at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f367927c5364868e7eee315d5b122e82.jpg" alt="Photo - Miguel Razo look at Brett McDanel's metal sculpture titled"The Devil You Know" at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]" title="Miguel Razo look at Brett McDanel's metal sculpture titled"The Devil You Know" at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]"><figcaption>Miguel Razo look at Brett McDanel's metal sculpture titled"The Devil You Know" at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f592040fde6d55998ea20b08715c6d39.jpg" alt="Photo - Sadie Gokey, 6, eats chicken on a stick along the Couch Drive food row at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]" title="Sadie Gokey, 6, eats chicken on a stick along the Couch Drive food row at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]"><figcaption>Sadie Gokey, 6, eats chicken on a stick along the Couch Drive food row at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 25, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-4b576bc126818cdf2ba3a212cbbe5090.jpg" alt="Photo - Artist Mike Nemnich sits in his tent at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]" title="Artist Mike Nemnich sits in his tent at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]"><figcaption>Artist Mike Nemnich sits in his tent at the 2019 Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park in downtown Oklahoma City, Sunday, April 28, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman Archives]</figcaption></figure>
Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

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