The Southeastern Manitoba Festival will not be happening this coming February as planned.

The event, which brings around 3,000 performers from across the southern part of the province to Steinbach every winter was suspended partway through last year’s festivities just as the COVID-19 virus touched down. Now it has been cancelled again.

“It is not the decision any of us wanted to make but, in the end, it was the decision we had to make,” remarks SEMF President Sharon Guenther who says the verdict was reached only after much deliberation and many tough conversations.

She says her team of organizers tossed around multiple ideas such as holding a virtual festival where submissions were made digitally or having participants come into a live studio to record their piece before sending it remotely to an adjudicator. However, with all of the uncertainties and complications, they felt the most prudent move was pulling the plug entirely. Besides, Guenther says, the usual donations and sponsorships would not have made up for the financial pitfalls of the pandemic; operating costs would have been way too high.

“We would have had to increase our entry fees if we ran and we would not have been able to have audiences, which is a large part of our revenue,” she says.

The absence of the festival means that some musicians, actors, and dancers are now missing their only chance to publicly display their skills for the second year in a row. Guenther acknowledges that fact, but encourages the dejected artists to continue to develop and diversify their abilities. The advice she offers is similar to that of last February when SEMF was suddenly cancelled for the first time.

“I want people to take this time to maybe explore other areas of their craft,” she says. “Sometimes, when getting ready for a festival, a person will put all of their focus on that one piece but now they have time to try other things.”

Accepting the festival's fate for this coming winter, Guenther has set already her sights on the year 2022, optimistic that at that point the COVID-19 risks and restrictions will have subsided enough for a return to the usual programming.

"I'm hoping it will be a big celebration," she says.