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WOMAD cancels, blaming lack of government support or guidance

By | Published on Tuesday 29 June 2021


This year’s WOMAD festival has been cancelled, founder Peter Gabriel has announced. In a statement, he says that continuing ahead with plans for this year’s edition of the event, which was due to take place next month, would put the whole festival’s “long term future at risk”.

“It is with great regret that we are cancelling WOMAD 21”, says Gabriel. “Without the simple support of a government insurance scheme … we cannot continue and put WOMAD’s long term future at risk. We feel that our audience, artists, staff, and contractors, who have been amazingly supportive throughout all this, will understand the need for us to act to guarantee our survival”.

The festival was set to take place from 22-25 Jul – shortly after the current 19 Jul target date for the lifting of pandemic restrictions in England – but without proper guidance from government at this stage, it is not possible to go ahead, says Gabriel.

“Since the government decision to extend the phase three [COVID] restrictions by at least four weeks (to 19 Jul, 72 hours before WOMAD should open its gates) we have been seeking urgent clarification from the Department For Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and Public Health England as to what this means for large scale events such as WOMAD”, Gabriel’s statement continues.

“Whilst the Prime Minister and his colleagues say there will be no restrictions on society at that point, we have been unable to get any confirmation of what the plan is. Nor is there any clarity on how what is being learned from the Events Research Programme might affect the guidance for festivals and how they are required to operate”.

Gabriel goes on to point out that next month’s Latitude and Tramlines festivals have now been added to the list of pilot events included in the government’s ever-extending Events Research Programme, which is investigating how full capacity shows can safely return as COVID rules lift. Involvement in that programme means events are generally not at the whim of future changes in COVID rules – and if, for any reason, an event can’t go ahead, government insurance is available.

While it’s good that music festivals are part of the ERP, some have accused the government of now cynically using the extended programme to cherry-pick a few events – especially in the sports domain, but some in culture too – so to allow those events to go ahead while the sector at large is still in shutdown and still faces much uncertainty about what will happen next month.

Latitude and Tramlines will take place on the same weekend when WOMAD was due to occur. The government involving festivals on that weekend in the extended ERP, Gabriel says, “clearly implies that only approved test events will be protected and guaranteed the right to go ahead as normal – even though this flies in the face of the Prime Minister’s statements”.

He also reveals that WOMAD applied to be included in the ERP as soon as lockdown restrictions were extended in June, but this was denied – the reason given that the event took place after 19 Jul.

“It is the lack of government backed insurance along with these actions that have forced WOMAD to cancel”, says Gabriel. “We have not been asking for financial support; all we have wanted is certainty in the form of insurance against cancellation (that we’d be happy to pay for). We need an understanding of the realities of how our industry works and the benefits that we bring. The industry should see equal access to support and a much less opaque way of deciding who gets help”.

Tickets already purchased for this year’s WOMAD will be rolled over to next year’s event, which is set to take place on 28-31 Jul 2022. Refunds are also available.

Last week, the Association Of Independent Festivals announced that more than half of UK festivals have now cancelled in 2021. The government finally published the results of the initial phase of the Events Research Programme on Friday, following a legal challenge by the live music and theatre industries. However, politicians are still resisting calls for state-back cancellation insurance and there remains a lack of clear guidance for events planning to take place after 19 Jul.