Saturday, December 01, 2007

Jazz and Heritage Foundation Rebounding from Katrina and the 2004 Jazz Fest Rain-Out

Good news about the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, according to a report in Gambi
t Weekly

Particularly interesting is the suggestion of adding a "music industry component" to Jazz Fest, something along the lines of the South By Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin.

Here's the report ...

Recent announcements of the Neville Brothers and Thursday performances to Jazz Fest suggested a full recovery from challenges presented by Katrina, but there was more good news. Details of Jazz & Heritage Foundation activities show the nonprofit organization rebounding from the festival's other climate disaster: the great rain-out of 2004. When a steady deluge eroded ticket sales and forced cancellation of a full day of performances, the Foundation took a heavy hit. Funding for community efforts disappeared, and the programs in education, musician housing and mini-festivals existed only on paper until the end of 2006. A strong rebound in sponsorships and revenue has given the programs a fresh start and spurred Foundation staff to rethink them, adjusting them to be more responsive to post-storm conditions.

'The good news is that we're in a wonderful growth period," said Scott Aiges, director of marketing and communications for the Foundation, in an interview last week. 'We finally have money to do this. Now we need to look at it very carefully and make educated decisions about how best to move forward."

The most conspicuous return to normalcy has been a series of free music festivals. Before the storm, the Foundation sponsored smaller, more intimate festivals in various neighborhoods. The Tremé Festival will return to the grounds of St. Augustine Church in March, but the Foundation also has launched four new festivals based on musical genres. These include the recent Fiesta Latina at the CAC, the Crescent City Blues Festival in Lafayette Park, the Congo Square Rhythm Festival in Armstrong Park and the Louisiana Cajun and Zydeco Festival. Aiges would like to see these free festivals grow their own followings so that they can be supported largely through their own sponsorships. In the case of the Cajun and Zydeco Festival, partnering with the Louisiana Seafood Festival was a way to increase the size and scope and get more bang for the buck.

The Foundation has reworked old programs to address changes brought on by the storm. One pre-storm initiative for housing helped musicians buy homes by providing grants that would help with closing costs. After Katrina, the Foundation provided a $17,000 grant to Sweet Home New Orleans to support its rental assistance program. Another developing initiative involves working with other neighborhood organizations to help musicians cope with credit issues as they apply for homes in Habitat for Humanity's Musicians' Village.

The community grants program is back with increased funding and a higher award ceiling, and the reconstituted Don Jamison Heritage School of Music has expanded. It now includes several campus locations offering free music instruction, with new ones at Dillard University, Lusher High School, Behrman Elementary on the West Bank and Craig Elementary in Treme, which is restricted to Craig students. As it grows, the Foundation is looking at its institutional mission, including developing a curriculum. But primarily it is assessing the program's function. 'Are we doing supplemental education or are we first responders? Are we exposing kids to jazz or grooming professional musicians," Aiges says. The Foundation wants to determine the best focus for its programs and not duplicate what is already being done, for example, not competing with NOCCA's music education program.

The foundation is also looking into supporting the state's music community in economic development. One new project is to build a music industry component into the festival, similar to the way Austin's South by Southwest serves as both a music fan's festival and industry showcase. Hosting talent buyers at the festival would be a boon to exposure for local artists and would help them tap into revenue sources like film, TV and video licensing. Another idea introduced by Foundation Executive Director Don Marshall at the press conference is to look at ways to use the Internet to help connect talent buyers from other festivals, TV, film and video projects with local musicians. 'How can we as a nonprofit with an incredibly recognizable brand name and some resources help our independent artists?" Aiges ages. He knows it can work because he's recently helped producers of the FOX show K'Ville find music by local rock and rap artists.

Another idea is building on recent experience. The Foundation is creating an endowment to support its programs. Setting aside money for a rainy day will make sure that uncooperative weather may postpone some jazz performances but it won't disrupt programs dedicated to preserving the city's heritage.

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