For the second year in a row, organizers canceled the Columbus Arts Festival and the Columbus Jazz & Rib Fest due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the Columbus Blue Jackets announced plans to again allow limited spectators at home games.
The Greater Columbus Arts Council said Thursday that the Arts Festival would not be held as planned in June because there is "too much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic." Although COVID-19 cases are declining in Franklin County and throughout the state, the GCAC cites the emergence of more contagious variants and the slow rate of vaccine distribution as points of concern.
“As much as we desperately want to celebrate a return to gatherings this year, we recognize that we must put the health and safety of our patrons, artists, performers, vendors and sponsors first,” said GCAC president Tom Katzenmeyer in a statement.
The arts festival is an annual summer fixture of downtown Columbus, drawing nearly half a million people to the riverfront. After scrapping the 2020 festival, the GCAC converted it into a virtual event in October. (Disclosure: WOSU is a media sponsor of the Arts Festival.)
Katzenmeyer said the next in-person Arts Festival is scheduled for June 10-12, 2022. However, the festival will change location – moving to the Arena District instead of its usual place in the Scioto Peninsula, which will be under development at the time.
“With vaccinations underway we feel very confident that 2022 will happen,” Columbus Arts Festival director Sean Kessler said.
On Thursday, the city Department of Recreation and Parks also canceled the upcoming Columbus Jazz & Rib Fest, originally scheduled for July 23-25. The city cited the need to "protect public health & safety." Next year's festival is set for July 22-24, 2022.
News of the festival cancellations came on the same morning that the Columbus Blue Jackets announced plans to bring spectators back to Nationwide Arena. The team said that Columbus Public Health approved its proposal to allow 10% of the arena's capacity – or 1,953 fans – at home games.
Next, the team says the city will submit a variance request to the Ohio Department of Health, which has restricted mass gatherings but allowed some exemptions for spectators at Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Cavaliers games. If their plan is approved, the Blue Jackets say that final preparations will take at least one week.
"We have spent a great deal of time and effort to provide a framework for fans to safely return to Nationwide Arena this season and appreciate the work of our local health officials throughout this process to date," the team said in a statement. "We are excited about the possibility of welcoming The 5th Line back to Nationwide Arena and look forward to hearing from state officials in the near future."