For the first time in its history, the iconic Waterfowl Festival that draws 15,000+ people to Easton, Maryland each year will not be held this November – at least not in its usual form. Instead, the Festival, along with conservation partner Waterfowl Chesapeake, will devote their energies to developing some new plans for this fall, including virtual programming that brings people together to celebrate the Eastern Shore heritage, culture and bird life. The 50th Festival will be held in its traditional style in November 2021.
“All of us want the Festival to take place as usual,” said Festival Board President, Kevin Greaney. “But uncertainty about the future means we must rethink how we are going to safely host an event, especially one of this size”. He explains, “Our strength is in the relationships we have and the face-to-face experiences we offer for artists, vendors and visitors. All our people – and especially our volunteer leaders and supporters who make Festival possible – need to feel confident and safe. So instead of a big event, we are planning for other programs that can still create connections and celebrate our community.”
Planning for the town-wide Festival begins annually each February with many commitments already made by June. By this time each year, the fine artists have been selected and the Featured Artist has been announced. The annual featured art piece, whether a painting or sculpture, has been completed and art buyers are beginning to take interest. Most of the three hundred vendors, exhibitors and artists have been invited and have made travel plans and commitments. Until now, the Festival’s forty volunteer Committee Chairs have kept all of these processes moving forward for this year, however, much has also been on hold and still remains to be done due to COVID-19.
“We’ve surveyed many of our stakeholders and what we heard overall is that they share our desire to have the Festival,” explained Greaney. “And simultaneously, they – especially our huge corps of leadership and weekend volunteers who make the Festival work — are still very concerned about the fall and a resurgence of COVID19. So, next year, we will host the 50th Festival with the vitality, hospitality and excitement that people have come to expect, along with a few surprises.”
Since 1971, Waterfowl Festival has seen incredible change and overcome challenges – from the internet to the Great Recession – and weathered it all because its strength comes from the dedication, support and love of the Eastern Shore community. It continues to be a cherished annual tradition and the Eastern Shore’s “Homecoming” which now hosts its fourth generation of dedicated families and guests.
“I applaud the Waterfowl organization for its forward thinking and flexible leadership,” says 2019 Featured Artist Nancy Tankersley. “As an artist, it is very disappointing to see yet another event cancelled, but this 50th anniversary is so important that it deserves 100% attention and shouldn’t be overshadowed by the risks of going forward with a physical event. I think the possibilities in virtual offerings are great, and a way for the artist to keep working and creating new work. If a collector is familiar with an artist’s work, they will feel comfortable purchasing online and will continue to support the Waterfowl Festival in this way.”
The Festival has made significant contributions to waterfowl conservation projects over the years and generates millions of dollars for the local economy annually. In 2019, the Festival visitors who traveled to Easton for the Waterfowl weekend generated almost $2.6 million in annual economic impact to Talbot County through shopping, lodging and travel.
“This has been a tough time for everyone, full of difficult choices,” said Margaret Enloe, Executive Director for Waterfowl Chesapeake. “This decision can feel like a step backward, however we see it as an opportunity to try new things, to grow and change. I have every confidence that we will emerge stronger and better. I expect that the 50th Festival in 2021 will be an even more incredible community celebration of the arts and our Eastern Shore heritage, one more vibrant than we could’ve ever imagined.”