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Baltimore cancels all large summer events through Aug. 31, including Fourth of July fireworks, Artscape

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced Wednesday that all large public events in Baltimore are canceled through Aug. 31, including the Fourth of July fireworks and the annual Artscape festival.

While initially saying the move applied to all events requiring a city permit, Young later clarified the cancellations apply to those larger than 250 people. All events expecting fewer than 250 participants are called off through May 31.

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The move comes as the city continues to fight the spread of the coronavirus. While some restrictions have been relaxed statewide, Baltimore remains under a stay-at-home order.

When asked if he would reconsider should conditions improve before July, Young said he couldn’t rule it out.

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“It’s always a possibility to take a second look at something, and I am open to that. But I will also be guided by our health professionals and the data they provide to tell us whether it’s safe to do that," he said.

Baltimore has been under a stay-at-home order since mid-March in response to the virus, which is spread person to person, particularly when people are in close contact with one another. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended people remain at least 6 feet from one another to limit the spread, and that social distancing standard has forced the suspension or cancellation of countless public events across the country.

Still, Baltimore is one of the largest cities to officially call off its Independence Day celebration. Other cities including Chicago, Cleveland and Raleigh have reportedly considered it. Philadelphia officials announced their annual Welcome America festival will be held in a virtual setting this year, but no announcement has been made about fireworks.

In New York City, one of the nation’s coronavirus hot spots, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he is committed to have fireworks on the holiday.

“One way or another, the show will go on; one way or another, we’re going to celebrate the Fourth of July in a very special way in New York City,” he said during an April briefing.

Baltimore’s Fourth of July celebration and the Artscape public arts festival both draw hundreds of thousands of attendees.

The Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts is looking into ways to “virtually celebrate and showcase the arts in Baltimore this summer," said Donna Drew Sawyer, the organization’s CEO, in the announcement of the cancellations.

"We look forward to resuming healthy gatherings across the city when it is safe to do so,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer added in a phone call that BOPA consulted with the mayor’s office over the last few months on how to handle the pandemic’s ongoing affect on public events. BOPA did not, however, make specific recommendations to the mayor.

Sawyer also said that BOPA is working on additional ways to make summer arts digitally viable.

“It’s not an ideal situation," she said, “but then there are opportunities inherent in the way we are looking to present arts here in Baltimore for the summer.”

The cancellation of public events and a virtual halt on tourism in Baltimore already has had a devastating impact on the city’s budget. City finance officials said last month they expect to lose $40 million in tourism and travel-related revenue for fiscal year 2021, including hotel taxes, convention center fees and some parking garage and meter revenue.

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Bob Cenname, Baltimore’s budget director, said city tourism revenues are the most at-risk segment of the city budget because they haven’t just been reduced during the outbreak — they’ve almost flat-lined.

Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said the city’s municipal tourism agency supported the move to cancel events.

“We’re all in this together as our city, the country and the world slowly begin to recover from the unprecedented impact of COVID-19,” he said in a statement. "While we know many will be sad to miss beloved summer events and traditions, we support the city and state’s multi-phased recovery plans.”

The cancellations also affect major events like the First Thursday outdoor concert series, which usually takes places between May and September at the Canton Waterfront Park. Program director Scott Mullins of WTMD, the Towson-based public radio station behind the popular series, said that the mayor’s decision wasn’t a surprise. The station already had planned to pivot to virtual concerts, starting June 4.

“Even before the mayor’s announcement today, we were just playing it by ear because we have sponsors we depend on [for the concerts] and they’re, of course, impacted by this situation as well,” Mullins said.

While the free concert doesn’t have a direct impact on the station’s finances, Mullins did say it hurts to lose the station’s “biggest outreach events.”

Several other major summer events already were canceled, postponed or altered by the time of the mayor’s announcement. For instance, the Baltimore Pride celebration and associated events were postponed from their typical June date. The Balticon convention will instead take place virtually over Memorial Day weekend, as will the annual HONfest in mid-June.

AFRAM, the annual African-American heritage festival and concert in Druid Hill Park, was canceled Wednesday as a result of the mayor’s announcement. Organizer said the festival “will be back bigger and better than ever” in 2021.

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