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Masks or No Masks? Cancel or Keep? Parade of Lights, ArtsGoggle Grapple With COVID Decisions

November 19,2021

See full Fort Worth Magazine article by Samantha Calimbahin here.

Looks a little different this year" was a phrase often repeated (and perhaps overused — yes, this magazine is guilty of it, too) in 2020, particularly by event organizers who found themselves pivoting their plans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year's GM Financial Parade of Lights was no different. Rather than its usual route downtown, the parade took to the Fort Worth Convention Center and aired on TXA-21 and Facebook, allowing families to enjoy the show from the comfort of their isolated spaces. 

A year later, following the rollout of vaccines and lifting of mask mandates, the Parade of Lights is back — in-person, downtown, no masks nor distancing required — and all seems as it had been before.

Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth, Inc., says the decision to follow through with the parade was based on public behavior.

"The biggest thing was the rollout and rapid adoption of all the vaccines, and then seeing all the professional sports opening up at 100% and events opening up around the country — the Stockyards in particular here in Fort Worth, being so packed on the weekends," Taft says. "It just became very obvious that people are comfortable getting out. If people are comfortable getting out, we want to present them this opportunity to come downtown."

Tarrant County Public Health is keeping a close eye on a potential increase in COVID cases over the next few months, as the county saw its highest spike in early January following the holiday season. According to data from Texas Health and Human Services, about 55.6% of Tarrant County residents above age 5 are fully vaccinated, which is considered low compared to other areas in the U.S. 

Tarrant County Public Health director Vinny Taneja recently told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that “if we continue to wear masks, avoid large crowds, get our vaccines done, we should be able to avoid” another spike. 

But it only takes a few moments roaming about town — whether it be the grocery store or any other area where masks are not required — to observe that diligent mask-wearing and social distancing are figments of 2020. With many restaurants back at full capacity and live events attracting large crowds, dare we say life is back to normal in Fort Worth, depending on where you go.

But the organizers behind ArtsGoggle — one of the biggest arts festivals in the Near Southside — beg to differ. 

ArtsGoggle — an outdoor event during which more than 1,000 artists showcase their work along Magnolia Avenue — intended to return in October. But one month prior, Near Southside, Inc. announced that the festival was postponed to April 23, 2022, "in response to public health concerns and guided by our district’s health professionals."

Megan Henderson, director of events and communications for Near Southside, Inc., says the decision to cancel was made out of respect to the hospitals in the Medical District — where ArtsGoggle would essentially be taking place.

"It has always been our longstanding responsibility to represent that sector of the economy — they're more than 40,000 people who come to work everyday in the Near Southside in the medical sector. We're not just talking about five hospital leaders; we're talking about the 40,000-plus staff members that they represent," she says. "That's a large group of people to be responsible to, and we need to be sensitive to the everyday working conditions of those people. It did not feel like the right time to throw a party at their doorstep."

That's not to say Near Southside, Inc., is ignoring its art community, Henderson says. Other opportunities for artists to showcase and sell their work exist through smaller events like Third Thursday, a monthly event during which Near Southside businesses host creatives for the evening. And when ArtsGoggle does come back next year, Henderson says Near Southside, Inc. is looking to make the festival its biggest yet. 

"It's not that the events will never return, and it's not that we aren't going to still serve as a strong champion for the arts, but we think there are other ways to do it," she says.

Nonetheless, without defined mandates, avoiding COVID-19 in Fort Worth is dependent on the individual's personal responsibility and comfort level letting their guard down when it comes to masks and distancing. Taft says the Parade of Lights did decrease the number of seat tickets available, though audiences can watch the parade for free in open spaces, where distancing will be "self-monitored." For those who aren't comfortable coming to the event in person, the parade will still be broadcast via TXA-21 as it was last year. 

And while organizers are aware that COVID-19 remains a pertinent issue, Taft says one look outside makes it clear that many Fort Worthians are ready to be out and about again.

"It is quite obvious that people are ready to go out and enjoy themselves and taking the precautions that they personally feel are necessary," Taft says. "It's fair to say that given everything we see around us, the Parade of Lights poses no more risk than a good night out on the town in the Stockyards or any of the other entertainment districts in Fort Worth."


Location Mentioned: Fort Worth Convention Center