It feels like things are slowly come back to life after the murky months of the unknown – and closures as a result.
This includes Durango Arts Center’s annual Autumn Arts Festival, which will be held Saturday and Sunday on East Second Avenue.
Things will be a little different, and the festival, which was checked out by San Juan Basin Public Health, will adhere to social-distancing, mask-wearing and hand-sanitizing/washing protocols that have become the norm when out and about in the age of COVID-19.
Brenda Macon, executive director of DAC, said there was some worry the festival – now in its 26th year – wasn’t going to be possible in light of our current public health situation.
“Back in March, we were really hemming and hawing because when we went into shutdown mode, it was like, what does this mean? Are we totally dead in the water or could we possibly still do that?” she said. “It’s our signature annual event, it’s the biggest fundraiser, and it’s basically the thing that gets us through the summer months, and with all of our operations being cut, if we didn’t have that, that really would have been quite awful. It was a big nail-biter, to be honest with you.”
Things started to turn around and DAC staff members started gaining confidence that the festival could happen when it was discovered that being outside was a much safer alternative to holding events indoors. That’s when DAC began holding theater and art classes outside and the festival became an event that could be something to plan for, she said.
“I’m glad we did because I feel like Main Avenue has become tent city with all the restaurants and retailers putting their tents out; the farmers market is a go; the flea market is a go; we’ve been keeping a close eye on those other things just to see how people are behaving – are they resistant to the state mandate of wearing masks? Are they being respectful of each other’s distance? It really does seem like people in Durango are being good,” Macon said.
And Durango would miss out if the event were to be canceled – Macon said the festival brings in about $500,000 to the local economy.
Patrons can expect to see about 80 artists with booths spread out on East Second Avenue. This year, Macon said there was a strong interest among local artists to participate.
Because of COVID-19, things will be a little different this year, she said, including the fact that in order to avoid crowds, there will not be live music or a food court. However, there may be buskers, and DAC encourages patrons to check out downtown restaurants. Booths will be spaced out to allow for 6 feet of distance, and masks are required and will be provided if you need one. Volunteers will also make sure that there are a limited number of people per block, and ropes will separate sidewalk users from festival-goers. And, Macon said, there will be hand-sanitizing stations everywhere.
To further help keep things safe for everyone, artists who are traveling into Durango from other places will have to check in, Macon said. “We have told them beforehand to notify us if they feel as though they’ve been exposed to anyone in the last 30 days ... all of our requirements for the artists are fairly thorough, and when they arrive, they do a temperature check, and we check them in with a full health screening.”
And the juried event, which is held with help from longtime sponsor 1st Southwest Bank, shows us that the arts are alive and well and can be a place for comfort, Macon said.
“The appreciation of arts and culture are important because they give us reasons for hope; they empower us in a time of fear to continue to create, and through the act of making things, we learn to problem-solve so that we lead better and richer lives,” she said. “In addition, there is a sense of the sublime that only comes through the act of appreciating our points of view that are illuminated through visual and performing art.