Live event promoters on life support due to COVID cancellations
Published - 09/22/20 - 11:00 AM | 12043 views | 2 2 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A family checks out the Liberty Station ArtWalk in 2019. COURTESY PHOTO
A family checks out the Liberty Station ArtWalk in 2019. COURTESY PHOTO

Laurel McFarlane is spending her son’s college money next year to keep her household afloat.

Sandi Cottrell has had to cancel the ArtWalk she’s promoted at Liberty Station the past 16 years, praying her business will survive to do it next year.

Michelle Metter’s husband’s business has been devastated by COVID, and her efforts to hold her young family together she described as “dire.”

All three women have joined with other live event promoters in a local movement, The San Diego Events Coalition, that is part of a national movement at

The three event promoters have a message to deliver: Live events in San Diego are barely alive, and won’t be for much longer without immediate governmental aid and federal financial assistance.

McFarlane, of McFarlane Promotions, who usually promotes about 70 San Diego events a year, is down to only five virtual events this year due to COVID. She characterized her present circumstances, and those of the rest of San Diego’s small-business event industry, as “brutal” and “catastrophic.”

“Promoting a live event takes 100 to 500 people – stagehands, bar staff, graphics designers, lighting crew, insurance reps – the list goes on and on,” McFarlane said. “Everyone is suffering. We’re the only industry that has zero things open.”

Said Cottrell, of ArtWalk San Diego, “We held out hope as long as we could that we could reschedule the art walk in August that has 200 fine artists, live music, wine and beer pavilion, art for kids and art displays for November. We tried to come up with something the county would accept with a very different format: no music, no kids, no wine, and beer, just sale of art. We’d gotten some very positive feedback but our timing was terrible, (it was) back in July when the big (COVID) spike happened. The writing was on the wall.”

Metter, of Fast Forward Events, annually promotes the week-long San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival featuring dozens of events and hundreds of domestic and international wineries with a Grand Tasting Finale in November at Embarcadero Marina Park North. Metter said her “overriding frustration” is with inconsistencies in which businesses are allowed to operate, and which are not.

“Swap meets and farmers markets are being allowed to reopen,” Metter pointed out. “Yet they won’t allow functions to be held by professional event organizers with professional management companies who have been doing so within the City for many years.”

Added Metter, “This impacts not just the City from the loss of economic drivers from events, but the personal toll taken on the live events workforce, which is now largely unemployed. That segment of the workforce just isn’t recognized by our state legislature. It’s very short-sighted.”

McFarlane warned that the COVID response canceling live events could exterminate the entire industry. “We can’t get anybody to listen,” she lamented. “We need to start gradually getting our industry back so people can still make a living.”

McFarlane noted there’s a considerable lag time in promoting and implementing live events.

“You just can’t open tomorrow,” she said. “We’re at least three months out from getting everything together to do an event with all the permitting and everything required. We’re talking about 2021 now.”

Asked McFarlane, “If people are allowed to go to swap meets and farmers markets, why can’t we be allowed to open and host small live events like art walks, car shows, and food tastings?”

The San Diego Events Coalition has been busy recently crafting a long list of reasonable health guidelines that would allow the industry to reopen before it’s too late to matter.

“We’re just really trying to find a safe way back for the 200,000 people in San Diego who are screaming out for help, and for the $329 million the live events industry contributes to the economy,” McFarlane said.

What happens if live event promotions are lost?

“If we’re not here, all these nonprofits will start to pay full price for events that have been discounted,” McFarlane said adding, “And no one is saying, ‘Oh my God, they’re wiping out this entire industry.’”

McFarlane said people aren’t aware of just how irreplaceable the live event industry is.

“They show up at an event and it’s magical,” she said. “But they don’t realize how the event planners have worked through the nights to make that happen, and all the hard work by all the people it takes for us to make that ‘magic moment’ for the public.”

What needs to be done?

“Right now, there needs to be some events opening,” answered McFarlane. “The coalition has developed 30 pages of guidelines for reopening, and elected officials really need to help us.”

Concluded McFarlane, “We’re not getting aid from Congress any time soon. The work I’ve spent the past 20 years doing, 90% of that has been wiped out. At this point, I don’t have a road map back at all. We need help to find a safe way back following the detailed protocols we’ve created. We need people to say, ‘We’re sorry we have forgotten about you. We’re going to help you.' I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

View the link to health standards for reopening created by the San Diego Events Coalition at


Comments-icon Post a Comment
September 22, 2020
This is an incredibly insensitive headline, considering how many people are LITERALLY ON LIFE SUPPORT due to contracting COVID-19. Dear editors, please change your headline.
Maisha Grinn
September 23, 2020
I agree with Commentator987. The headline is inappropriate, misleading, and inflammatory.
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