Coronavirus spurs cancellation of Nowruz festival at UCLA celebrating Iranian new year


Sunday was to be particularly colorful at UCLA with the 12th annual Nowruz festival celebrating the Iranian new year and the start of spring, but concerns over the coronavirus prompted organizers on Thursday to say they are canceling the event, which drew more than 25,000 last year.

The Farhang Foundation, the Los Angeles-based Iranian-culture nonprofit that organizes the Nowruz festival, made the decision late Wednesday night in response to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s declaration of a local emergency that day, Farhang Executive Director Alireza Ardekani said.

“We were closely monitoring the situation over the last few weeks, and after yesterday’s press conference, we just felt it was the reasonable thing and the responsible thing to do,” Ardekani said.


“Originally we were waiting for someone to tell us, officially, to cancel,” he added. “But they made it clear, at the press conference, that the public should stay out of crowded areas, and we felt it was illogical to have the event. It was a no-brainer.”

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The city’s posted recommendations point toward higher vigilance and do not explicitly advise people to avoid public gatherings at this point. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, for example, is keeping its schedule of events but did tell ticket holders: “If you or a member of your household are sick (with a fever of 100 degrees or higher, or have other flu-like symptoms), please stay home from your scheduled concert. We will exchange your tickets for another future performance with no fee.”

Nowruz festivities at UCLA were to include a parade across campus with the UCLA Bruin Marching Band, plus dance performances and storytelling. A tabletop altar installation — called a haft-sin — was to go on display at the entrance to UCLA’s Dickson Court.

Paris-based soprano Darya Dadvar was to perform her Los Angeles debut at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Sunday night. She arrived last night from France to be told the concert had been canceled.

Farhang said it would bring Dadvar back for the festival next year, and the installation will be relocated to the Westfield Century City shopping center, where it will go on view March 14-23.

The cancellation amounts to a $260,000 loss for Farhang, the foundation said, citing the marketing costs, artist fees and travel expenses as well as the lost Dadvar ticket sales.

“This is our largest event of the year and our most attended event,” Ardekani said. “That’s a huge number for a small nonprofit like ours.”

Just as significantly, he added, about 100 volunteers worked more than seven months to plan the event.


“It’s a loss of so much time and energy,” Ardekani said. “It’s very, very sad.”

More hand sanitizers in galleries. More sinks to wash hands. For arts institutions mapping out contingency plans amid the coronavirus crisis, that’s just the start.

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