Indiana Daily Student

“Coming back strong”: Lotus organizers rise above challenges planning in-person Lotus festival

<p>Patrons wait to hear the Anat Cohen Quartet Sept. 30, 2012, at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater during the Lotus World Music and Arts festival. The 28th annual Lotus Festival will be held from Sept. 23 to Sept. 26, 2021.</p>

Patrons wait to hear the Anat Cohen Quartet Sept. 30, 2012, at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater during the Lotus World Music and Arts festival. The 28th annual Lotus Festival will be held from Sept. 23 to Sept. 26, 2021.

The Monroe County Health Department rescinded guidelines preventing gatherings of over 50 people May 17. 

This meant two things: one, the 28th Annual Lotus Festival could be at least partially in person again. And two, the 28th Annual Lotus Festival was set for Sept. 23 to Sept. 26: four months from that day in May.

Over the past few months, organizers scheduled artists, planned festival infrastructure, recruited volunteers and made a number of safety decisions, according to executive director Tamara Loewenthal.

In previous years, Lotus Festival had a system of tents, churches and local clubs where artist performances would take place. Multiple venues declined to participate this year, Loewenthal said. The festival has half the venues they usually have and are operating at around two-thirds capacity.

“I keep talking about what Lotus as an organization has practiced, and has needed to practice, is a certain amount of resilience, and we’ve had to be flexible, and we’ve had to ask others to give us grace and also grant it to ourselves.” Loewenthal said. “We’re really trying to do the best we can do.”

The festival mandates a COVID-19 vaccination or negative COVID test in order to buy a ticket. The Buskirk-Chumley Theater, which deals with Lotus’ ticket sales, seconded the decision.

Advance tickets to see both indoor and outdoor venues will be $30 per day, outdoor venues only will be $20 and the closing concert and livestream are $15. Loewenthal said they decided to lower ticket prices due to the negative economic impact of the pandemic as well as the change in the number of venues.

While losing venues has affected economically, Loewenthal said sponsors including IU Bloomington have been generous.

Lotus hosts several free, family-friendly events throughout the year bringing arts and culture to people who may be prohibited by cost, said Jillian Campbell, community and arts engagement director. 

“We hope to build curiosity and empathy about other cultures through the arts that members of our community might not otherwise have the ability to experience,” Campbell said.

Lotus relies heavily on volunteer efforts and the number of available volunteers has significantly declined. Volunteer coordinator Brigitt Nasby said the shortened planning period and difficulty of nailing down plans has significantly affected volunteer numbers.

“The festival is smaller this year, but we still have quite a few volunteer needs that haven't been met,” Nasby said. “I think people are evaluating their comfort level and safety, which is completely understandable. We want people to volunteer only if they feel safe to do so.”

Organizers insist an in-person festival will be worth it. This year, they’re coming at their goal of cultural connection from a different angle.

“Lotus’s particular perspective is bringing in artists that have a really particular cultural take or tradition from outside this country or within this country but that comes from something relatively old or from a particular group of people.” Loewenthal said. “I say that because, this year, we’re having more American artists. More music that’s more representative of cultures within this country.”

Some examples Loewenthal mentioned were Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers, which is a Zydeco band from the Cajun/New Orleans area, and Pamyua, a group blending traditional Inuit melodies with R&B arrangements.

“I keep talking about what Lotus as an organization has practiced, and has needed to practice, is a certain amount of resilience, and we’ve had to be flexible, and we’ve had to ask others to give us grace and also grant it to ourselves.” Loewenthal said. “We’re really trying to do the best we can do.”

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