The 27th annual Minnesota Fringe Festival, which was to take place over 11 days in August, has been canceled. The development, announced Friday, makes the festival the latest casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Fringe, which organizers bill as the largest performing arts festival in the Upper Midwest, usually draws 40,000 to 50,000 people to a smorgasbord of more than 100 shows in Minneapolis and St Paul.
The cancellation, and the uncertainty around the pandemic, threaten the survival of the organization, officials said. The four-person staff, including executive director Dawn Bentley, will be furloughed May 1.
“It’s devastating for us — for the artists and public that we serve, and for the economic impact we have,” said Bentley, who has been at the helm for four years. “We’re in survival mode.”
The festival, whose annual budget is around $500,000, faces an immediate fiscal crisis. It is refunding more than $40,000 in deposits to this year’s producers and artists and is losing about $160,000 in net income, Bentley said.
The organization is asking the public for help as it seeks to raise $100,000 to ensure its return in future years.
While the pandemic has had a broad impact, it poses an existential threat to many theaters, orchestras and arts and culture organizations. That’s partly because of the nature of their businesses — they draw people together — and business models that rely on the box office for a significant portion of their income.
“We don’t know how people are going to feel about gathering after this, but we believe they’ll be excited to come together around shows,” Bentley said. Still, Bentley said, she does not want to put artists and audiences in danger.
The Fringe had already signed up more than 100 companies for shows.
Shannan Custer, a writer, producer and performer who has been involved in every Fringe since 1997, said the news made her feel “numb.”
“I have done up to five shows in one year in the past and this year I was only scheduled to work one,” Custer said. “With everything that’s happened, I feel like I’m having less of an emotional response and more like, ‘All right, we have to prepare ourselves for all eventualities. This is the new normal.’ ”