The Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre has cancelled its signature Haliburton Art and Craft Festival for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Executive director/curator Laurie Jones made the announcement April 11, citing concern for the health and well-being of festival-goers. The annual three-day event, now in its 57th year, attracts thousands of visitors and normally runs at the end of July in Head Lake Park.

Jones said it is a significant loss for the artists and for Haliburton. She said tourism impact studies indicate the festival usually brings in more than $1.4 million to the local economy.

“It brings so much into the town,” Jones said. “I am really going to miss the artists.”

Jones said the gallery board of directors had a special meeting and decided upon the cancellation, based on the information available about the impact of COVID-19 stretching for months to come. Other spring and summer festivals across the province have begun announcing cancellations as well.

She said they wanted to ensure artists knew well in advance.

“It’s their livelihood,” Jones said, adding drawing out the decision would leave artists in a tenuous position. “Were we to have continued, they’d have to create product and then potentially no event.”

Jones said the cancellation is a pretty big financial hit for the gallery, as it usually accounts for a third of annual revenue. However, she noted there is an associated decrease in expenses.

“We’ll have to be creative about how we recoup it,” Jones said. “We’re a charity and there are some federal programs that are rolling out that are going to be helpful.”

Despite the cancellation, Jones said they want to highlight each festival artist on their website, which they do every year.

“I’ll have to expand that and also speak to artists to see what they need from us.”

Jones said artists were appreciative of the early warning, adding the gallery wants to ensure the festival remains one of the best in the province in the years to come.

“We really want to preserve this festival’s place in the galaxy of high-quality, wellrun, friendly festivals in the province,” Jones said.

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