The cancellation of the Wordplay festival is entirely down to coronavirus, and is not a “long term or permanent cancellation”.
So said Shetland Arts Development Agency (Sada) chairman Ryan Stevenson this week, in response to more questions from concerned literary enthusiasts about the future of the annual writing festival.
But Mr Stevenson also echoed a previous statement from Shetland Arts chief executive Graeme Howell about the festival being constantly “up for review”.
Two more letters queried the decision to cancel Wordplay this week, including an open letter to Mr Stevenson.
The Shetland Times received several letters last month from fans of the festival who were worried that Shetland Arts was using the virus as an excuse to quietly sideline the event.
Westside Writers group member Debra Nicolson wrote to the paper this week to question again why Shetland Arts had not attempted to hold the festival virtually, as other similarly-sized book festivals in Scotland are attempting. She added that she would have been willing to pay a “reasonable fee” if they had attempted such a feat themselves.
And Catherine Emslie wrote an open letter addressed to Sada chairman Mr Stevenson, claiming that she had been forced to do so because earlier correspondence with Shetland Arts on literature development in the isles “fell on deaf ears”.
In response to the concerns, Mr Stevenson assured Wordplay devotees that the festival will return – if Shetland Arts feels the festival “can be shown to be an effective part of the development of the arts in the islands”.
He repeated Mr Howell’s previous statement about Wordplay, and Shetland Arts’ other festivals such as Screenplay and Shetland Folk Frenzy, being consistently “up for review”.
Mr Howell insisted last month that the trust had not decided to cancel the festival for good, but added: “I think everything should be under review.”
Mr Stevenson said Shetland Arts was “not mandated to run or support any specific festival, event or development programme”, and that all of their festivals and events would be consistently up for debate during the development of their three-year strategy, which the trust is currently in the process of developing.
All three of the trusts events, Shetland Folk Frenzy, Wordplay and Screenplay, had to be cancelled “solely as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic”, he said.
Mr Stevenson, as with Mr Howell last month, urged any concerned fans of the festival to make their views known to the trust when they hold a public consultation later in the year.
He said that Shetland Arts “is not, and does not profess to be perfect” and would listen to any constructive criticism levelled at them.
Mr Stevenson did not address whether the trust had considered holding the event virtually, either for free or by charging a fee, but he did add that there had been “a number of constructive points” made about the quality of the Wordplay festival across the last few years.
The festival “took a break” in 2019, with a short event called 365 Stories and Music replacing the annual festival.
And in 2015 Wordplay was replaced with the Shetland Noir crime-writing festival, which was only held once.