Rethinking Oktoberfest 2020
Anticipating the inevitable, the Mount Angel Oktoberfest Board of Directors is examining its options in planning what will be a scaled-down 2020 festival.
The board and other organizers are tuned into developments with COVID-19 concerns, public safety and social-distancing orders, closures and the gradual phasing in of reopening. All timelines and scenarios indicate a truncated 2020 celebration is in store.
"Oktoberfest has held out as long as we could before making a decision about holding the festival ... and our decision makes us incredibly sad," said Monica Bochsler, the festival's director of public relations and marketing. "We are not quite canceling, but it sure won't be the big, exuberant, everyone-come event we normally produce."
The volunteer board's concerns are twofold: recognizing the perniciousness of the pandemic and its potential to cause illness and death, along with the ability of the board to support the nonprofit organizations and communities that rely on the annual income they gain from Oktoberfest.
The festival draws between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors annually, a number that will be impossible to accommodate this year. Guidelines established within Oregon's Phase 2 reopening preclude the festival's traditional format.
A festival board news release stated that food booths lining the street cannot be managed, extensive family-friendly, free kindergarten would not be possible, and gatherings in the venues would have to be greatly reduced.
Given the restrictions, the board estimates that attendance would be reduced by 90%.
Consequently, Oktoberfest organizers acknowledge the need to suspend the normal high-spirited festival format while searching for an alternative one. They hope to implement an alternative that can generate income for nonprofits while still allowing people to enjoy Oktoberfest's most popular features: "great food, great beer and great entertainment."
"There will be a tremendous gap generated by the loss of the festival. Its large footprint extends well beyond the four days and the city of Mount Angel," the news release noted. "It generates income for Mount Angel businesses during the festival as well as surrounding communities for lodging, transportation, infrastructure support such as the utilities, vendors and service providers."
Included in the fold are more than 100 artists and crafts vendors, entertainers, craft brewers, local food artisans and producers, and especially nonprofit entities.
Nonprofits benefit from Oktoberfest in two ways:
• Oktoberfest distributes excess funds from each festival to other nonprofits through a grant program. Oktoberfest has distributed over $3.5 million to other groups over the course of 54 years; recent grant donations have been between $90,000 and $120,000 annually.
• Oktoberfest also creates opportunities for other nonprofits to raise funds. In the 2019 festival, 51 diverse organizations, representing school organizations, scholarship funds, civic groups and more, collectively grossed $775,000.
For many of these organizations, Oktoberfest food booths represent their sole source of income.
Mount Angel Oktoberfest is a German Heritage festival organized by a volunteer board of 19 members and no paid staff. The festival occupies the streets of Mount Angel for four days each September.
In 2020 those dates should be Sept. 17-20.
Oktoberfest is the largest folk festival in the Northwest with an annual attendance of between 300,000 and 400,000 people of all ages. Its mission is to create income for nonprofit groups.
Due to the COVID-19 environment, considerable format changes are in store for the 2020 event, which are under discussion by its board of directors.
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