by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Council members rejected a special events permit application for a two-day art fair at the Sanibel Community House over the Thanksgiving weekend. City Manager Judie Zimomra, who was given authority to make decisions on these applications, said she did not see a way to approve the request. So, it was presented to council in its Nov. 3 meeting.
The Sanibel Masters Art Festival has historically attracted 2,000 to 2,500 visitors throughout the two days. Organizer Richard Sullivan of Boulderbrook Productions said they reconfigured the event by removing 23 percent of the artist displays to provide for at least eight feet of space between booths and removed food to discourage visitors from lingering longer. And a single entrance and exit were implemented into the design.
Sullivan proposed reduced parking to limit attendance. “We thought that by concentrating on allowing only a certain number of vehicles we could control attendance more easily,” he said in his proposal. He also proposed the use of the CountUp app to count the number of attendees arriving per hour and in total. He said it would allow them to carefully monitor attendance.
Sullivan’s proposal included that the number of people allowed by the Center for Disease Control worksheet is 257, but the historical hourly average has been 176 based on the highest attendance in the past five years the event has been held.
“We are seeking to have no more than 210 people allowed,” Sullivan said in his proposal. “This is a large space. So 200 people would keep us 23 percent below the CDC calculated load attendance.”
Vice Mayor Mick Denham called the request to host the art fair “high risk.” He said it would be “unwise for us as a community to endorse a fair like this,” especially as the community and the nation “struggle to keep the virus under control.”
Councilwoman Holly Smith said she understands it’s been a “hard year for all of our non-profits, but we can not test the waters with this event that expects 2,000 individuals.” She added that the community wants people to “realize we are SanCap Safe and doing everything we can to be SanCap Safe.”
Councilman Richard Johnson said he didn’t feel the plans were “enough to make the event safe and despite their great intentions, as we attract people from outside the community who don’t take (virus safety) seriously, it could put the community at risk for more infections.”
Sullivan told council members he appreciated their comments and agreed with most of them, even though they “reimagined the event.” Community House Executive Director Teresa Riska-Hall said they wanted to have a “safe event and encourage some economic areas in not only our region or island, but everywhere.”
She pointed out that the traffic counts from previous years indicate there is less traffic during the Thanksgiving weekend than most other weekends during high season. “The virus is going to be with us for a very long time and we must learn to adjust to it in a safe way. There is really not a number (of people) that is safe. Just think about the economic repercussions.”
The Sanibel Master Arts Festival has typically raised about $170,000 for the Sanibel Community Association.
“We need to think of the right way to do this,” said Mayor Kevin Ruane. “We do need to work with the virus that will be around for a while, but the council has been very clear in its direction.”