THE longest running festival of outdoor arts Hat Fair, which attracts nearly 100,000 people to Winchester each year, has been cancelled for 2020 amid coronavirus fears.

Organisers of Hat Fair, which features international street performers, dance, circus, music and local community performances and has been running since 1974, have instead announced dates for 2021.

Play to the Crowd, the arts and education charity that runs Hat Fair and Theatre Royal Winchester, has cancelled the event due to the national and international spread of coronavirus.

Hat Fair Director Andrew Loretto told the Daily Echo: "It is a sad decision to postpone our wonderful Hat Fair 2020 programme to next year, but we must prioritise the health, well-being and safety of all of our artists, participants, staff, volunteers and audiences in light of current events.

"Hat Fair is a beacon of international joy and coming together through live outdoor performance, embraced by Winchester. As a new resident of this beautiful city, I am proud over the past three years to have played my part in civic society by working with diverse local organisations to welcome visitors annually from far and wide.

"When we come back in summer 2021, we will need Hat Fair more than ever to celebrate humanity, open air, dialogue, friendship and art. Current events have proven that we are all interconnected internationally, and Hat Fair 2021 will celebrate the best of that on our streets, parks and pavements."

Deryck Newland, Chief Executive of Play to the Crowd, added: "This isn’t a decision that has been taken lightly but it is the right decision in these times. We are also painfully aware of the very challenging impact on the whole creative and arts sector and are thinking of all those independent performance companies, artists and practitioners whose livelihoods are at risk."

Organisers are encouraging arts lovers who would have attended the event, which was due to take place from July 3 to 5, to instead make a donation at playtothecrowd,

Hat Fair 2021 will take place from July 2 to 4 2021.

Initially conceived as a busking festival, Hat Fair takes its name from the tradition of the audience showing their appreciation by putting money in the hat at the end of the show.

These days most of the festival’s artists are paid a fee to perform for free to audiences. However, the hatting tradition is still upheld as organisers invite a dozen or so of the world’s best street performers to ‘hat’ at the festival each year.