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It won't be Sad March in Adelaide - but it will be different

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WOMADelaide organisers say the heralded music festival will go ahead in March next year, but Premier Steven Marshall has warned it will likely look very different, saying “tens of thousands of people wandering around the South Australian park lands is not going to be a reality”.

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The status of the acclaimed music festival has come into focus after the State Government announced on Sunday night that the Tour Down Under would not go ahead in January due to the coronavirus pandemic, only days after revealing it had axed Supercars.

A smaller domestic cycling festival is scheduled for January instead, while Tour Down Under organisers plan a new national event, to be held in South Australia.

Marshall said this morning that all events involving large crowds would have modified programs next year and into the “foreseeable future”, despite South Australia’s success at keeping the coronavirus at bay.

“We are enjoying a COVID-normal in South Australia, but we’ve got to protect that – our number one priority is keeping our state safe and by doing that we keep our economy strong,” he said.

“We can’t kid ourselves that this is gone away.”

Major arts festivals including WOMADelaide plan to go ahead in 2021, albeit with modified programs.

A WOMAD spokesperson confirmed to InDaily that the event, which this year attracted a record 97,000 people, would definitely go ahead in Botanic Park from March 5 to 8, with an announcement to be made in the coming weeks about the program and format.

A statement on the festival’s website says that the organisers are working with SA Health on a COVID management plan “to ensure that with the full support of relevant authorities, we can deliver a safe, viable and enjoyable event for everyone – one that continues to celebrate the creative excellence that defines WOMADelaide”.

Festival director Ian Scobie declined to comment further.

Marshall said that it was unlikely that next year’s festival would run as normal.

“I think that WOMAD is working with SA Health at the moment for a modified program, but the concept of having tens of thousands of people wandering around the South Australian park lands is not going to be a reality for WOMAD next year,” he said.

“What we’ve been able to do is to develop a protocol around arts events, so we’re not at full capacity but we’ve been able to have a 50 per cent capacity for ticketed seated events, and SA Health has been very happy with that.

“Where it is more complicated is where you have large crowds where you don’t know who you’ve been standing next to.”

Other Mad March events including the Adelaide Festival and Fringe will go ahead in 2021, but in a different format and with fewer interstate and international artists than usual.

Fringe has already launched the poster art for the February 19 to March 21 open-access festival, and is distributing a total of $500,000 in grants to help artists present shows as they recover from the impact of this year’s shutdown.

Fringe director and CEO Heather Croall has said previously that artists and venues are looking at a range of different ways to present COVID-safe events, including with amphitheatre and promenade-type performances. While it seems unlikely there will be many international acts on the 2021 program, most years around 80 per cent of Fringe acts are Australian.

Adelaide Festival is set to launch its 2021 program later this month, but has already announced its centrepiece opera ­­– UK composer Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream ­– and is planning to host a pop-up, open-air Festival Club by the River Torrens throughout the February 26 to March 14 Festival.   

In an interview in August, Festival co-artistic director Rachel Healy told InDaily the 2021 Festival would inevitably look different to previous years, with more South Australian and Australian shows, and increased outdoor experiences.

Meanwhile, annual eating and drinking festival Tasting Australia has appointed Byron Bay-based chef Darren Robertson to curate a series of foodie events across Adelaide and the regions over April and May.

The 10-day festival was supposed to run last month, but organisers decided to postpone the event to allow time for the local industry to recover after coronavirus restrictions.

Major sporting events have been less-able to adapt to the new COVID-normal, with the cancelation of the 2021 Tour Down Under the second blow to South Australia’s events calendar following last week’s decision to permanently axe the Adelaide 500 supercars race.

Marshall said the State Government left its decision to cancel the cycling event “as late as possible”, but a lack of interest from international cycling teams meant the event would not be viable.

“We know that this (the Tour Down Under) brings many hundreds of cyclists and their support crews in, and (it’s) logistically very, very difficult in this COVID environment,” he said.

“We had a lot of immediate rejections, we had a very small number (of teams) who said look we’d still consider it, but when they found out that the vast bulk of the teams weren’t coming, it was unfortunately all over for 2021.”

Asked what the economic loss would be from cancelling next year’s event, Marshall said “a lot of it is going to depend on how we can pivot to a new national event”.

“Obviously our focus at the moment is protecting and growing as many jobs as we possibly can,” he said.

“That’s one of the reasons why we have to do a pivot during coronavirus.

“We can’t just put everything on pause – we’re going to have to do things differently.”

Events SA is expected to announce further details about the national event in the coming weeks.

Marshall said last week that the decision to can the Superloop Adelaide 500 – formerly the Clipsal 500 – had brought “much money and many visitors into our state in the past, but what we have seen in recent years is a reduction in the number of people who have been attending this event”.

He said that other fixtures such as the Royal Show and future Christmas Pageants are also “all under a cloud”.

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