Dear Zimfest Community,
After much discussion by the Zimfest Association Board and the Organizing Committee, we have decided to cancel Zimfest 2020. In lieu of holding the festival this year, we will begin to plan for Zimfest 2021, and also explore alternative opportunities for celebrating and supporting Zimbabwean music.
The health and safety of Zimfest teachers, performers and participants have been our paramount concern.
Although there is no way to predict what the status of the COVID-19 pandemic will be in late July, we must consider the possibility that restrictions will still be in place regarding large group activities that would require a last-minute cancellation of the festival.
If this were the only barrier we faced, a final decision could potentially have been postponed until later in the year, but unfortunately we also face a number of challenges in the short term:
- The availability of Conference Services staff at The Evergreen State College, our Zimfest 2020 host, is very limited during this time, as all campus services are on deferred operations through at least April 24 due to COVID-19. As a result, we have not yet received the letters of invitation we requested for our Zimbabwean guests—these are necessary documents supporting their B-1 visa applications. We also require data on room allotment by early April in order to set up our registration system. As long as the deferred operations are in place, we can expect further delays in other essential information on facilities, concert, and workshop venues, adversely affecting our ability to open registration. There is currently no estimate for when Evergreen Conference Services will resume normal operations.
- The U.S. Embassy in Harare, where Zimbabwean visa applicants must appear for mandatory in-person interviews, has cancelled routine non-immigrant visa appointments as of March 19, 2020. It is unknown when this restriction will be lifted.
- Due to an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, South African Airlines has cancelled international flights for the indefinite future. This carrier provides flights from Harare to Johannesburg SA that are often the first leg of the journey from Zimbabwe to the US. Many flights onward from Joburg are also being cancelled and their future availability cannot be predicted.
- The United States has barred entry of citizens from many regions of the world, including Asia, Europe, Canada and Mexico. There is no indication when such bans may be lifted.
- Another consideration is the severe economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Members of the Zimfest community will be affected financially by working reduced hours or losing their jobs, while others are beset by new challenges such as converting from in-person to remote working or teaching. These difficulties could suppress Zimfest attendance, even if COVID-19 transmission were no longer an issue at the end of July.
In short, because of conditions outside of our control, we are unable to put on a successful Zimbabwean Music Festival this year. We believe that announcing the cancellation now, rather than waiting, will reduce financial losses by Zimbabwean artists who need to pay for visa applications, airfare, etc.
In times of stress and uncertainty, gathering together in community to celebrate Zimbabwean music and each other could be an especially healing and uplifting experience. Members of the Board and Organizing Committee mourn along with you the loss of our event and the incredible line-up of teachers and performers who planned to attend this year. We are especially sad about the lost opportunity for Zimbabwean artists to come to the festival, teach and perform, make new connections, and earn income for their families.
We wish you and yours good health during these unsettled times, and extend our sympathy to anyone who has lost family members or friends to the virus. To the healthcare personnel in our community, we deeply thank you for helping save the lives of others, despite the risks. Traditional music has provided strength and healing during many troubled times; may you continue to gain comfort from the music we love, even as we ride out this unprecedented worldwide calamity.
Zimfest Association Board
2020 Zimfest Organizing Committee
Zimfest: Music Dancing Across Borders