When it was announced that the annual Wizarding Weekend would be canceled for 2020 and beyond, many were shocked. Yet for Wizarding Weekend founder Darlynne Overbaugh, the surprise closing was a couple years in the making.
From legal issues to a lack of community support, the festival found itself mired in a myriad of issues, which ultimately led to the five-year-old festival’s indefinite hiatus.
“It’s kind of a symptom of the times we live in that, small events, especially volunteer-run events are suffering,” Overbaugh told The Sun. “Whether it’s a lack of time, expertise or finances, those are the things, and it’s not any one person’s fault. It’s just a symptom of being a volunteer run organization.”
In 2018, the festival began facing legal issues. Warner Bros. sent the organizers a “cease and desist” letter, prohibiting the festival from using anything in reference to Harry Potter.
Before Warner Bros. resorted to legal action, the event included several Harry Potter-themed aspects, such as a Sorting Hat demonstration and a Marauder’s Map, detailing the event. The festival had to shift its focus to more overarching themes of fantasy and magic — unaffiliated with any major movie franchise.
But trouble with the media conglomerate was not the only reason that the festival was discontinued.
“[The decision] also stemm[ed] from the fact that we’re not getting enough community support,” Overbaugh told The Sun. “It actually takes around 200 volunteers to make the weekend happen. And as volunteers ourselves who organize it, we’re not able to dedicate enough time and resources to making sure that can continue.”
For the past few years, Cornellians and Ithacans enjoyed the event and the camaraderie it brought to town. Past events consisted of panels with celebrities from major fantasy movies and TV shows and live showings of animals like a red-tailed hawk and Barred Owl, which played into the festival’s mystical theme.
According to Overbaugh, the event attracted over 10,000 attendees in recent years, who partook in scavenger hunts, ate magical treats and roamed the Ithaca Commons dressed as their favorite magical beings.
Cat Huang’s ’21 — a former Wizarding Weekend volunteer — favorite part of the event was to see the reactions of the kids who attended, who she saw were always excited to participate in the festivities.
“It’s very much a family event,” Huang said. “They have these young kids and their parents come, and it’s a great way … to get everyone to bond with each other.”
However, Overbaugh could not find enough volunteer support to continue the event.
“Everybody wants to attend, right?” Overbaugh said. “No problem. The problem is that everybody wants to have fun and doesn’t want to commit to helping.”
Since she did not want to sacrifice the quality of the event, Overbaugh saw this as an opportune time to step back and reconsider the festival’s future. While the event is ending in its current form, the organizers are planning to discuss future possibilities.
“I want families and people who are fans of magic and fantasy to enjoy it,” Overbaugh said. “And if we’re just putting it together for the sake of doing it, that’s disrespectful to the people who have loved it for so long, and I’d rather take the time to make it better for them.”