West Van cancels Harmony Arts, summer rec programs

Summer fun is officially going on hiatus in West Vancouver this year.

The District of West Vancouver announced Wednesday that all summer events and programs – including the Harmony Arts Festival which usually runs for 10 days at the beginning of August – have been cancelled over coronavirus concerns.

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It’s the first time the arts festival, which drew 140,000 visitors to the West Vancouver waterfront arts and cultural event last year, has been cancelled. This summer was to have been its 30th year.

Traditional July 1st Canada Day celebrations and all summer recreation programs – ranging from fitness classes to kids summer camps – have also been cancelled up to Aug. 31.

Although the Harmony Arts Festival doesn’t take place until August, there wasn’t enough certainty coming from health officials that life will return to normal by then to go ahead with the event, said Donna Powers, spokeswoman for the municipality, because planning and financial decisions have to take place long before that. “There’s a point beyond May 1 where financial commitments have to be made,” she said.

The budget for the Harmony Arts Festival last year was $512,000 with over $200,000 of that provided by sponsorship and the remainder funded directly by the municipality or raised from sales commissions.

With the municipality anticipating bringing in an “austerity budget” next week, and most businesses that have traditionally been sponsors shuttered or severely curtailed, Powers said cancelling the event was the most prudent course of action.

“I expect most of us are all hoping that August will bring normalcy. But we don’t know that it will. It’s too early to say. And we certainly can’t put money on it,” she said.

Canada Day celebrations – typically a smaller event involving outside performers – have also been cancelled. “It’s really about it being a mass gathering,” she said.

Powers said it’s possible if restrictions are significantly lifted by August that West Vancouver could plan a much smaller scale community celebration. “But it wouldn’t be Harmony Arts,” she said.

Perhaps even more significantly, West Vancouver is also cancelling all of its summer fitness, community recreation and kids day camps for the summer on account of COVID-19.

“It’s all swimming lessons. It's all woodworking classes, it's spin and yoga and everything,” said Powers.

Facilities where many of those activities take place have already been closed, said Powers. Even in cases where classes take place outside, physical distancing with groups of people is too difficult to manage, she said.

About 450 municipal workers – many of them part-time and casual employees – who provide those summer programs have already been laid off, said Powers.

Cancelling summer programs will also mean a significant loss of income for the municipality, which is expected to hit the district’s budget, being presented on Monday, said Powers.

That revenue would have helped pay for maintenance of facilities – which still needs to happen – as well as for staff salaries, she said.

“This going to be a significant factor in the revised budget that staff are bringing forward to council this week because there's revenue loss in a number of areas, but this is one of the most significant.”

 

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