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Rising COVID-19 Numbers Bring a New Round of Event Cancellations in Metro Phoenix

Recalling pre-pandemic days exploring art along Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe.EXPAND
Recalling pre-pandemic days exploring art along Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe.
Lynn Trimble

COVID-19 cases are once again headed in the wrong direction in the Valley (and pretty much everywhere in this country). As a result, we're starting to see some new cancelations, including Tempe Festival of the Arts and FilmBar movie screenings at the Orpheum Theatre.

In recent days, the city of Tempe announced that it would be rescinding permits for large-scale events due to COVID-19, which meant that organizers had to cancel the fall arts festival set to launch on December 4 and the Ironman triathlon scheduled for November 22.

“It was a combination of recognizing trends in rising COVID-19 numbers now, especially in Maricopa County, and long conversations with partners in other cities,” Kate Borders says of the decision to cancel the fall arts festival. Borders is the executive director for Downtown Tempe, a nonprofit group that works to enhance the downtown area.

That's just the latest setback for local organizations and venues who’ve been facing challenges since mid-March, when public health concerns led organizers around the country to call off events ranging from the South by Southwest festival to NBA games.

Tempe pulled the plug on its Spring Festival of the Arts in March but hoped the festival would be able to proceed this fall. Instead, the event that features both local and out-of-state artists was nixed with three weeks’ notice. “Our fear was that the numbers would get worse, and we’d have to cancel the event with 24 hours’ notice, which would have been really terrible for our vendors,” Borders says.

FilmBar temporarily shuttered during early pandemic days, but later launched an outdoor series featuring films screened in its parking lot.

The Orpheum Theatre is one of many venues affected by rising COVID-19 numbers.EXPAND
The Orpheum Theatre is one of many venues affected by rising COVID-19 numbers.
Lynn Trimble

Friends of the Orpheum Theatre, a volunteer group supporting the city-owned performing arts venue, partnered with FilmBar to screen movies for patrons seated according to social distancing guidelines. In October, they screened The Wizard of Oz and Edward Scissorhands.

However, November 14 and 15 screenings for the iconic Prince film Purple Rain were called off on short notice last week, due to concerns about rising COVID-19 numbers. Now, community members are watching for more cancellations as the holiday season looms.

For The Nash, a Roosevelt Row music venue that specializes in jazz music and education, pandemic strategies include presenting outdoor concerts in a garden space at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society located near Hance Park. Some spaces, including The Lost Leaf and Crescent Ballroom, have outdoor areas that help with programming amid COVID-19.

Several museums, including Heard Museum and Phoenix Art Museum, have reopened in recent weeks, after temporarily closing for a time due to the pandemic. Some art spaces, including Five15 Arts on Grand Avenue and Eye Lounge in Roosevelt Row, have limited hours. Others are closed, and some have viewings by appointment only.

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Work by Antoinette Cauley, whose exhibition monOrchid canceled citing COVID-19 concerns.EXPAND
Work by Antoinette Cauley, whose exhibition monOrchid canceled citing COVID-19 concerns.
Melissa Fossum

The monOrchid posted an exhibition cancellation notice on its Facebook page on November 11, which included the following statement about a planned exhibition featuring work by Antoinette Cauley, the artist whose portrait of James Baldwin was recently installed on the Ten-O-One building in Roosevelt Row: "Due to the increase of COVID cases/numbers surging, we have made the very hard decision to cancel Antoinette's "Pieces of My Journey" exhibition. This is in consideration of the safety of our guests and community, Antoinette, and the monOrchid team."

It’s entirely possible that rising COVID-19 numbers will mean more event cancellations and temporary venue closures in the coming days and weeks, so keep a close eye on anything you’re planning to attend and follow the fine print on details like ticket refund policies.

Look for other ways to support local artists, suggests Borders, who notes that people can still connect with artists at Tempe Festival of the Arts through the event website. “For a lot of our artists, they’re struggling and they may not make it,” she says. “We still hope that people will shop and buy local."

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