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The Mount Vernon Place Conservancy, the non-profit organization that manages the annual Flower Mart festival, announced today that organizers have decided not to hold the two-day event in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The 2020 Flower Mart was canceled because of the then-emerging pandemic and restrictions placed on public gatherings.

This year’s event had been scheduled to take place from April 30 to May 1. Lance Humphries, executive director of the conservancy, said that planning began last fall and organizers were optimistic that they could hold an in-person event but had to change course.

“Unfortunately, the surge of the pandemic over the holidays indicates that the pandemic is still very much with us, and on people’s minds,” he said in a statement. “What we are seeing is that many do not think a festival will be able to [be] safely executed this spring, even with such obvious safety measures as masks and hand-sanitizing stations.”

Organizers say the task of lining up vendors, musicians and educators takes months of planning, and arrangements for a late April or early May event need to be confirmed by late February. That’s why a decision had to be made now.

Flower Mart was founded in 1911 by the Women’s Civic League. The Conservancy, which manages the Washington Monument and the parks of Mount Vernon Place, assumed responsibility for the festival in 2019.

Last year the Flower Mart was the first of many Baltimore gatherings that were put on hold or transformed to virtual events because of the coronavirus, including Artscape, HonFest, Light City, Baltimore Pride, the AFRAM festival and the Fourth of July and New Year’s fireworks at the Inner Harbor.

“It was clear in mid-March 2020 that the pandemic would quickly make such a large public gathering impossible,” Humphries said of that decision. “It was particularly disappointing to cancel considering that all of our vendors and educational activities were ready to go.”

This year, instead of live performers and shoppers buying flowers, the Conservancy is planning an online marketplace highlighting its vendors, and online lectures and workshops.

The Conservancy is also planning a way to sell the festival’s signature Lemon Stick—perhaps as a “Take and Make” kit, so residents can enjoy it on their own.

“This is not what we hoped for,” Humphries said, “but public safety, and the safety of our vendors, educators, and the dozens of volunteers needed to run this event, remain paramount. However, we are determined to hold an event this year to continue the tradition.”

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said he knows that turning an in-person event into a virtual event isn’t easy, but he supports the Conservancy’s efforts to continue the Flower Mart tradition in some way while making public health and safety a priority.

“Flower Mart is Baltimore’s oldest continuous free public festival, and the launch of the festival season in Baltimore,” Scott said in a statement.

 “While I know that transforming this event into a virtual experience was not an easy decision for the Conservancy to make, I thank them for keeping the health and safety of our residents a priority and look forward to being together again in the near future.”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.