Putting a pause to Southern Arizona’s longest-running art festival, the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday denied permission for the annual Tubac Festival of the Arts in February.
After discussing the issue in a 10-minute executive session, all three supervisors cited the county’s particularly high coronavirus positivity rate as the reason for denial, yet suggested that organizers bring the item back again in a month or two.
“It’s an exemplary event for Santa Cruz County. I believe the community of Tubac has done an amazing job with the event and it pretty much breaks my heart to have to do this,” Supervisor Rudy Molera said. “What I’d like to see is look at the possibility of maybe postponing it, not totally canceling it.”
However, when the board of the Tubac Chamber of Commerce met on Wednesday to consider its next steps regarding the festival, they opted for cancellation.
“There’s just too many unknowns at this point, including if the artists would even be available if we were to postpone for March or April. We don’t know what the safety issues may be, what the COVID cases may be at that point,” board member Cheryl Horvath told the NI. “It involves so much planning that we just decided to cancel it.”
Prior to the supervisors’ decision, James Lagattuta of Tubac Jack’s restaurant and saloon, spoke during the call to the public to ask the board to consider approving the event, which had been scheduled for Feb. 10-14.
He credited the Tubac Chamber of Commerce for helping put together a mitigation plan to ensure public safety during the event, and emphasized that the festival was particularly important for local business owners like himself.
“Economically, it’s a huge impact for the village. Our businesses are very seasonal, so we have to do well during the winter months to be able to even survive during the summer,” Lagattuta said.
He added that helping those small businesses was helping “protect what people consider to be the whole charm of Tubac, and the whole reason they make it a part of their winter experience.”
Candy Vermillion of Vermillion Promotions, an event production company based in Litchfield Park, Ariz., laid out the mitigation plan for the event for the supervisors as she urged the board to grant permission.
The measures, she said, included a requirement that vendors and attendees notify the mitigation team within 14 days of attending the festival if they receive a positive COVID-19 test, or if they believe they were exposed to the virus while attending the event.
She said that Vermillion Promotions produced eight festivals throughout Arizona last year, none of which resulted in any positive cases.
In addition, she said that organizers were expecting 20-to-30-percent drop in attendance, due to people taking extra precaution measures, travel restrictions preventing people from visiting the area, and the canceled Tucson Gem and Mineral shows in Tucson, which also attract tourists to the area at the same time of year.
“And we know that Tubac has a lot of great outdoor space that will allow efficient social distancing,” Vermillion said.
Still, County Manager Jennifer St. John advised the board to deny permission for the event in light of the coronavirus outbreak in the community.
St. John said that even with the likely decline in attendance, the event could still be expected to draw about 16,000 people over the course of four days.
Jeff Terrell, the county health services director, also recommended that the board reject the event for the time being, considering the public health crisis.
He noted that there has been a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations within the past few weeks, with most patients being taken to hospitals further north for treatment.
In addition, Terrell said there was concern that the new, more highly contagious strain of coronavirus could reach the county, given the number of tourists who visit the area for the festival.
“Holding an event that’s going to bring in that type of potential is concerning,” Terrell said. “Looking at some of these events, I’m not sure that a lot of these have been tied to super spreader events, but the potential is there with that kind of attendance of 4,000 a day.”
This year’s edition was set to be the 62nd annual Tubac Festival of the Arts. It typically showcases the work of approximately 200 artists from around the United States and Canada, while also highlighting Tubac’s shops, art galleries and artist studios.