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Festival-goers explore Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney's House of Mirrors at Luminato 2019 in Toronto.Remi Chauvin/Handout

A festival that rose out of one epidemic has been felled by another. Luminato, the Toronto arts festival designed to rebuild tourism and morale in the city after the 2003 SARS outbreak, announced Thursday that the June event will be cancelled this year because of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Given Luminato’s origins as an initiative to help rejuvenate Toronto after SARS, we are keenly aware of how important it is to work as a community in challenging times like these,” the organizers said in a prepared statement. “Over the coming months and year ahead, we will work alongside our community and all levels of government to help ensure that Toronto’s artistic community survives this critical period.”

The organizers, including board chair Peter Herrndorf, chief executive officer Anthony Sargent and artistic director Naomi Campbell, said they regretted the need to cancel "a thrilling program … works of theatre, dance, music, food, ideas, visual art, installations … built around three weekends of free, outdoor projects in different parts of Toronto.”

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This year's festival would have been the first wholly programmed by new artistic director Naomi Campbell.Taku Kumabe

The festival planned for June 11 through 28 would have been the first that Campbell had fully programmed after taking over from the previous artistic director, Josephine Ridge, in late 2018. Campbell and Sargent had yet to announce the bulk of the 2020 programming but had unveiled two Canadian premieres of international touring productions.

One was of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, presented by the Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre. The other was Requiem pour L., an Afrocentric adaptation of Mozart’s Requiem by the Belgian performance company les ballets C de la B. Both are now cancelled or postponed, and Luminato will contact ticket-holders about their options.

Launched by local businessmen David Pecaut and Tony Gagliano in 2007 with generous provincial support, Luminato has had to withstand cutbacks in recent years, which led to Ridge’s departure after just two years on the job.

Initially a well-funded multidisciplinary festival of both free street programming to entertain Torontonians and hot international tickets to draw tourists, the event has sometimes been criticized as a top-down exercise removed from local artists. Under Ridge and Campbell, a local theatre producer, it had been working to collaborate more with the Toronto arts scene.

The festival is set to return in June, 2021, when it will celebrate its 15th anniversary.

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