INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana State Fair has been canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, joining other high-profile events like Gen Con and Indiana Black Expo whose organizers decided they couldn’t assure the safety of visitors to their crowded programs.
Fair officials announced Thursday that the annual showcase of Indiana agriculture, food and exhibits will be replaced with a modified State Fair 4-H livestock show in August at the fairgrounds.
“Unfortunately, key elements including vendors and partners of the fair began falling off and so we pivoted, and found a way to still serve our communities,” said Brad Chambers, chair of the Indiana State Fair Commission.
This is the first time the fair–which drew nearly 900,000 visitors last year– has been canceled since World War II.
“Safety is our number one priority. We’ve spent months working through options that would allow us to host the fair,” said Cindy Hoye, executive director of the Indiana State Fair Commission. She added that the livestock show will give 4-H members an experience that allows the youth to be recognized for their dedication and hard work.
The pandemic, which shut down much business and activity in the state from March through May, has left many event planners struggling with whether to go forward or cancel for this year, disrupting local community activities.
The summer of 2020 isn’t going to look like any past festival season.
Of the 665 fairs and festivals that have a membership with the Indiana State Festivals Association, at least half of the events are expected to be canceled, said Douglas Weisheit, coordinator of the association. Currently, members have canceled fairs through July 3.
When COVID-19 began spreading in March, the state and local governments issued stay-at-home orders and shuttered all but the essential businesses. Local business, schools and companies have recently started to open back up as a part of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s five-step plan but the guidelines have remained consistent – keeping a social distance and wearing a mask while in public.
The dilemma faced by Marcy Fry, the executive director of the Elwood Chamber of Commerce, is typical of what many local leaders are dealing with as they try to figure out exactly what local festivals will look like. Her community has the Elwood Glass Festival, which is held in mid-August and still scheduled to go forward.
“You have some people that everything’s just fine, let’s go ahead and go with it,” Fry said. “Then you have other people that are concerned about the different types of guidelines that we’re going to be doing.” She said she has a June 9 board meeting where final decisions will be made.
Besides taking guidance from the Madison County Health Department, Fry said their local festival organizers are also in communication with other festivals in their area such as the Tipton Pork Festival and Atlanta Earth Day as everyone tries to figure out how to move forward.
“We have been communicating on what we’re doing because it is such a fluid situation,” Fry said. “Everybody’s trying to figure out do we move forward or do we step back?
The organizers of both Gen Con, scheduled for early August, and Indiana Black Expo, set for July, decided to step back.
“Gen Con, the largest and longest-running tabletop gaming convention in North America, announced today that their upcoming 2020 convention in Indianapolis has been canceled due to health and safety concerns related to COVID-19,” the organization announced in May. Organizers made the decision after consulting with Indianapolis government officials and public health authorities and said the event will return to the Indiana Convention Center in August 2021.
Indiana Black Expo announced it April that the summer celebration was being canceled because of the pandemic.
“Advancing our mission – being a voice and vehicle for the social and economic advancement of the African-American community over the last 50 years – includes our responsibility to protect the health and safety of those who attend our traditional community engagement programs and events,” the organization said in a press release.
Though some counties have canceled their fairs, the Johnson County Fair is still on and will limit the number of visitors, broadcasting some events online, and putting social distancing measures in place. Other fairs and festivals across the state are still deciding what their plan will be for 2020.
Tabby Fitzgerald is a reporter with TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.