Your festival is wheelchair accessible, environmentally friendly, gender balanced and anti-oppressive, and some of you even hire sign language interpreters for your mainstage.
Canadian folk festivals have always strived to be beacons of justice and inclusivity.
So as you all ready your come-back from COVID-19 closures, I hope you’ll consider leading the way in another form of inclusivity too: making your festivals as welcoming as possible for people who are clinically vulnerable to COVID 19. And their families too.
Immunocompromised people alone make up around 2.7 per cent of the population, according to several American studies. That doesn’t include their family members (I’m one of them), who must follow the same safety protocols, or people with other vulnerabilities to severe COVID, such as COPD (est. 6.5 per cent of adults) and heart failure (est. 1.5 to 2 per cent of the population).
As hard as the pandemic has been on everyone, it’s been especially hard on us. Where possible, we’ve worked from home, shopped online and avoided sharing indoor spaces with other humans, which really kills a social life – especially if you live in the parts of the country where it’s too cold to socialize outdoors much of the year.
A lot of us are isolated, depressed and craving a good time – and some of us have money to spend and few events to spend it on.
Folk festivals present us with the possibility of seeing live music and basking in community in the relative safety of the outdoors, while generally also having enough space to stay distanced from others.
But there are still some challenges that need to be overcome, especially around entering, eating and peeing, and I’m hoping you’ll work to address them.
How do you do it?
There are basically two things clinically vulnerable people try to avoid:
- Being indoors (except at home)
- Crowds – and really any area where it’s hard to avoid being close to people
So here are a few suggestions for how to make festival-going easier on us
- Consider a separate bank of masks-only port-a-potties for clinically vulnerable people. Going to the bathroom is going to be the single most dangerous thing we do at your festival. Creating a place where we can go a little more safely reduces that risk. Ideally, set these apart from the other porta-potties so we’re not lining up next to a crowd. Also, mark six-foot separations on the ground where people line-up. The people using those potties will still care about distancing.
- Think about how you can avoid making clinically vulnerable people stand in line. Could you have a separate gate for clinically vulnerable people to enter through? Could you open your gates half an hour or an hour early for clinically vulnerable people only?
- Consider roping off an area in front of your main stage where masking and distancing are strictly enforced. You could even turn this into a premium zone with a volunteer or two to bring us food from the concessions (because we won’t line up) and charge us extra to sit inside. We’ll pay it!
- If you don’t already permit people to bring food from home into the festival grounds, please consider making exceptions for people who are clinically vulnerable. The concession area of festivals is often crowded, and crowds aren’t safe for us.
- Offer live streaming for those who really don’t feel safe attending in person. We’ll pay. Heck, I’d pay to see festivals in other cities even if I wasn’t the partner of an immunocompromised person.
The good news is there’s something in this for you too: a chance to grow your audience.
COVID has created a large market of individuals for whom COVID-safety is now our number one priority in choosing which events to attend. And the pool of contenders for our entertainment dollars is small.
Any event that distinguishes itself early on for its efforts stands to pick up loyal audience members who might never before have set foot in a folk fest.
So if you’re going to do this stuff, make sure you…
Promote promote promote!
How do you get the word out to people who are immunocompromised?
One is through the organizations that serve them.
- Organizations, support groups and clinics that serve blood cancer patients
- Organizations, support groups and clinics that serve solid organ transplant patients
- Organizations, support groups and clinics that serve people with psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, arthritis of the spine and psoriatic arthritis
- Facebook groups and other online supports for these groups. Check out Immunocompromised People are Not Expendable. You’ll find lots of Canadians there.
We’d love it if you’d try some of these ideas and tell us how you make out – and we’d love to hear your suggestions about what you think might work at your festival.