By now we have all heard the phrases ‘unprecedented,’ ‘difficult situation,’ and ‘social distancing’ thousands of times. Let’s just call a spade a spade – 2020 is a year many of us would like to forget. Ten to fifteen years from now we’ll likely look back on this and recall how the pandemic changed things, and how simply odd several months of our lives were. But in the present, the reality is that it’s hard to be sure about something that seems to change daily. Because of that uncertainty, many tourism related events in ILLINOISouth have been cancelled this year – and more continue to cancel by the week.
American Thresherman Event in PInckneyville
Some of the huge events that have called it quits for 2020 are: Art on the Square in Belleville, Art in the Park in Highland, the McLeansboro Fall Festival, the Grand American at the World Shooting Complex in Sparta, the Popeye Picnic in Chester, the summer American Thresherman Show in Pinckneyville, Mad Dog 2020 – a mural painting event in Olney, the Du Quoin State Fair, the 4th of July Fireworks in Du Quoin, and all county fairs – notably the Jasper County Fair which was celebrating its 150th Anniversary.
At the end of the day, cancelling was not something anyone on each of these event committees wanted to do. Du Quoin Tourism’s Heather Genesio says that landing on a decision to cancel their 4th of July Fireworks celebration was not taken lightly. “We hold the event at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds and it costs us around $7,000,” Genesio explains. “We had to make a commitment to the vendor by June 1 and it still wasn't clear what phase we would be in. We received a great deal of backlash, but we felt we made the right choice using the information we had at the time.”
Art on the Square in Belleville
One of the biggest events in ILLINOISouth each year is Art on the Square in Belleville; it attracts tens of thousands of folks annually and delivers over two million dollars in economic impact with hotel stays, food purchases and more. Founder and Executive Director Patty Gregory says that after weeks of reaching out to artists and listening to their feedback – it was in everyone’s best interest to forego the event in 2020. That said, Gregory and her team made sure that the artists were taken care of. “We reimbursed the artists booth fees,” Gregory explains. “They were surprised because a lot of shows didn’t do that. On top of that, we offered them an automatic invitation to next year’s show.” Art on the Square’s 2021 event will be their 20th Anniversary, so the group is now looking forward to making that event quite the celebration.
Olney Walldogs Event
Another big draw that has been in the works for years is a Walldogs mural painting event in Olney. Over a dozen murals had been planned to be painted throughout the City of Olney, with thousands of people from around the world planning to attend the multiple day event in June. “The only responsible choice was to postpone the event itself,” admitted Kelsie Sterchi, Olney’s City Clerk.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say a few tears were shed, at least on my part,” Sterchi added. “We are not yet sure how the future of the 2020 Walldogs event in Olney will pan out. We will be meeting later in August to discuss this all again now that we have a better view of what COVID-19 means. It is apparent that the event will not totally be what we had in mind, but there is still potential for beautiful art that represents the rich history of this community. Art that can be enjoyed for several years to come!”
Throughout ILLINOISouth, there are other events scheduled for the fall and wintertime that are currently hanging in the balance as well. If you know of an event that is planning to either postpone or continue with restrictions, please let us know! Thank you for taking the time to read more about ILLINOISouth, and another thank you to all of the folks affiliated with each and every event. Here’s to an eventual return to normalcy, and we hope to see all of you exploring the wonderful 22 county territory of ILLINOISouth soon!