How to Plan a Festival During a Pandemic

After months of lengthy lockdowns and social distancing, the idea of a festival during the pandemic may seem outlandish. How does one pull off a memorable, fun, family-friendly event that’s also ‘Covid-19 compliant’? Baz-Art’s International Public Art Festival (IPAF) managed to do just that, with an unforgettable ambiance, exceptional artworks, creative curation, and smart ways for the public to interact with the art without interacting with each other.

Baz-Art is an NPO that transforms urban spaces through commissioned urban art. It is the host of the IPAF, which is now in its fifth year and one of Africa’s largest – and most anticipated – art festivals. It features local and international street artists who create large-scale public artworks across the streets of Salt River.

Baz-Art co-founder Alexandre Tilmans says, “Being the only festival that took place in Cape Town for close to twelve consecutive months took courage. Just deciding to go ahead was a challenge. It’s counterintuitive that it’s possible to have a festival where people don’t meet and gather. Our idea was to replace people’s daily park walk with immersive outdoor walk through art installations instead. We needed to convince people it was safe to participate. We loved the challenge of creating such an unconventional event, and it was encouraging to have our sponsor and partners’ support.

“We had to radically rethink how we organized the IPAF to ensure it complied with local and international regulations. Our big challenge was to keep the ambiance the festival is known for while adhering to pandemic protocols. We did this by:

Ensuring artists were dispersed across the neighbourhood of Salt River in Cape Town
Creating digital tools and maps for visitors to download. People would open the map on their phones, then follow the route individually or with their households, without interacting with other groups – and even though the festival has ended, visitors are still encouraged to try a DIY tour by downloading the maps from our site over here. Making sure the area was big enough so visitors wouldn’t cluster, even at peak times.

“It was critical to us to still create opportunities for connection. Artists were a safe space away from the public, but still close enough to interact and explain their works.

“Crucially, we appealed to the entire accredited tour guide community of Cape Town to participate. It was an incredible opportunity for them to be ‘back at work’, following many months of unemployment. These tour guides facilitated mini-tours of the neighbourhood, sharing its history and underlying culture, while giving insight into the art. The combination of dozens of tour guides and tiny groups made the festival a success, with a flowing succession of small groups, without any clustering of visitors.”

Jehaad Masoed, a 36-year old local from Salt River in Cape Town, said that visitors in their little groups were amazed at just how beautiful Salt River is. “You could see people barely knew the area existed since people generally drive past without necessarily exploring the hidden gems in the neighbourhood. Salt River is such a small area with charming houses and vibrant street art painted on walls. The paint on some of the older houses are peeling off, and as a local I’d rather prefer seeing walls graced with beautiful murals so that it seems a bit more presentable while still preserving the authenticity of the community and its people.”

The festival created a safe opportunity to be outdoors, experiencing a feeling of normalcy, while exercising and engaging with beautiful, thought-provoking works. People were seeking stimulation and excitement after months of being at home. The IPAF was a welcome outing, feeding the need to do something different.

Aside from benefitting visitors, it also created employment opportunities for the greater community. Local youths were employed to assist with logistics, security and to aid artists. Tilmans adds, “Providing an economic injection to the neighbourhood and tour guides reignited a sense of hope, purpose and normalcy for everyone.

“A month on and we’re still seeing the positive impact, with residents and tour guides having adapted their ways of working. Our digital tools and maps remain available and some Cape Town tour guides are using their new knowledge about street and public art to resume their activity after months of isolation.

He ends off with some advice for others, “If you’re considering planning a covid-safe event during the pandemic, we advise being open-minded. Think about what people are missing the most right now. How can your experience answer this need? Consider the new covid rules in your country and then get creative and innovative with how you adapt your event. You may evolve it in special ways that will last long after the pandemic has passed.”

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