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Coronavirus: Calgary WordFest pauses live programming through April; other arts orgs closely monitoring health situation

Calgary arts and culture groups are keeping a close watch on constantly shifting ground on the coronavirus, with at least one making the decision to pause upcoming events.

Most organizations are in touch with guidance coming from Health Canada, Alberta Health and the City of Calgary regarding larger events and measures they can put in place to limit exposure.  

Calgary’s WordFest CEO Shelley Youngblut said after reviewing the health criteria and due to the “intimate” nature of many of their upcoming events, they’ve made the decision to pause live programming through the Easter break. They will also suspend school programming until further notice.

“That’s why you come to a WordFest event, you’re going to be able to interact with an author and your fellow audience members in a really close way – so we’re particularly vulnerable if one is thinking about social distancing – or the opposite – about social gathering,” Youngblut told LiveWire Calgary on Thursday.

She said books are being handed to people, authors are signing them, so she said making a responsible decision was easy for them.

Further to this, three authors scheduled to attend upcoming events have cancelled. Youngblut said they made the decision to cancel because they’re on an international tour, and decided it was the most responsible decision to suspend appearances.  

Other Calgary arts groups approaching coronavirus situation with caution

Calgary Arts Development posted a series of links to information for local arts groups to use in managing through the coronavirus pandemic.

Other groups we reached, including the Calgary Expo and Arts Commons said they’re closely monitoring developments and are in contact with local authorities.

So far, no guests have cancelled their attendance at the Calgary Expo, which runs from April 23 to 26.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming fans and guests at Calgary Expo in April. Our number one priority is always the safety and experience of our Fans, Guests and Staff. We’re closely following official advice and guidance from the government and local authorities,” read a statement from Calgary Expo organizers.

Theatre Calgary has posted information on their website regarding performances.

We reached out to the Calgary Folk Music Festival to see if there was any impact on the festival later this summer. They said they were focusing on their initial lineup announcement today.

Impact will be felt, said Youngblut

Youngblut said three years ago they decided to make their model more sustainable, running year-round programming centred around a bigger annual event. Still, with their April conference now on the shelf, this is going to hit their organization hard.

“Now that key piece of our business model is broken. We hope temporarily, but it is a big deal.  It’s hurting us. We’re losing a tremendous amount of money, engagement and also flexibility,” she said.

Being in the arts has taught them to plan for any type of event. Youngblut said they have “myriad contingency plans” for various situations. She’s hoping that will help them ride this out.

They have more than 20 events scheduled for May and those are still set to go ahead, Youngblut said.

We will continue to update this story with more information on larger gatherings and events.