As summer events cancel, some aim to salvage summer

Summer of the Arts banners hang from light fixtures near Pedestrian Mall in Iowa City on Friday, May 22, 2020. (Aaron Scheinblum/KCRG)
Summer of the Arts banners hang from light fixtures near Pedestrian Mall in Iowa City on Friday, May 22, 2020. (Aaron Scheinblum/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: May. 22, 2020 at 5:29 PM CDT
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Memorial Day is the unofficial start to summer, but from pools to fireworks to fairs, much of the typical summer fun is now cancelled.

With it, Lisa Barnes, the executive director with Summer of the Arts in Iowa City, is making the final touches on her annual event.

"Things got turned kind of on their ear, and we had to take a step back and say 'what can we still do?'" Barnes said.

Her group hosts an event that in years past, brought thousands to Iowa City- all that is there now: banners hanging from the light fixtures, saying "Summer of the Arts," but no event planned to fill those same streets.

"It's impacted everybody, it's impacted us because we're not getting the revenue we normally would from our large events," Barnes said.

Josh Schamberger heads Think Iowa City, working to find ways to bring visitors to the area. He admits how it is now, is incomparable to years past.

"From a guy who works with an organization who puts on events and sees how much joy those events bring to the community and visitors, just here socially with quality of life, but also economically with local businesses, so it's been depressing," Schamberger said.

Schamberger said a time when normally restaurants and hotels are thriving, the pandemic has forced a much different hand.

"Hotel occupancies normally in the corridor normally would be 65 to 70-percent this month," Schamberger said. "They're struggling to maintain 20 [percent]."

It has forced groups like Summer of the Arts to get creative, to find ways to salvage summer. Aside from virtual events, they are looking at turning the annual film series, into a socially distanced drive-in at the Iowa City Airport, showing a film on the side of one of the hangars at the airport. But Barnes said they are planning slowly to monitor the situation.

"Right now we're going one month at a time," Barnes said. "So we figured out June, we're working on July right now."

Getting creative with programming could be a step in the right direction, but Schamberger says it could take much more for the city and surrounding areas to bounce back.

"They need the support, and a lot of those supports comes from attendance and tickets," Schamberger said. "So it's not sustainable. It's great, but we've got to get back to a place and hopefully this Fall, we've got it... at least in a state where it can be mitigated."

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