State fund “zeroed out” for West Oak Lane Jazz Festival next year

A consultant for this year’s West Oak Lane Jazz Festival says the event will not receive state funding in 2012.

“The funds that we get from the state, those are gone,” said Rick White, a producer with World Village Management, LLC, who helped organize the festival.

Since 2004, a series of hefty state grants have all but covered the three-day fete’s bottom line. That thanks in large part to State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila), who as Appropriations Committee Chair helped steer taxpayer dollars to the event each year.

Evans was ousted from the influential position in November, making the possibility for a ninth state-backed festival less likely.

Moving forward, White said event organizers will need to rely on corporate sponsors and other big-name contributors to keep the festival alive. Grants may also play a part, he said.

Jack Kitchen, who heads the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation, the festival’s annual sponsor, agreed with that assessment, but added that the nonprofit will still seek public funds for next year.

“Both at the state and federal level but [I] simply do not know what to expect,” Kitchen wrote in an email.

With or without taxpayer dollars, Kitchen estimated the price tag for next year’s Jazz Festival to be between $1 million and $1.2 million. OARC secured an $821,000 state grant for this year’s event.

Steven Kratz, press secretary for the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development, which directed the funds to the festival, confirmed White’s assessment, saying the source of money was “zeroed out” by Governor Tom Corbett in the proposed budget for next year.

NewsWorks was unable to reach Evans for comment about what his involvement will be with the Jazz Festival in the future.

Changes to come

The likely funding scheme shift will translate into big changes to the format of the festival, according to White.

For the past eight years, OARC has treated residents from all over the city and beyond to a free event along Ogontz Avenue, West Oak Lane’s main commercial corridor. The festival has grown to three days of free music. Starting next year, there will be a bigger focus on hosting paid events throughout the city. Those events would be marketed as part of the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival.

“It is about selling tickets at the end of the day,” said White. He added that OARC may look to partner with venues such as the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Center City, The Liacouras Center in North Philadelphia and The Mann Center in West Philadelphia.

The festival’s tradition in West Oak Lane will not die, but it’s unclear if there will be three days of music there in the future.

“It’s too early to say,” said White.

“We might have this event as the end of the festival week and we might have other events that take place during the week in other locations,” he said.

On Sunday June 19 – the festival’s final day this year – a number of vendors, musicians and residents were a little uneasy about the prospect of change.

Germaine and Nicole Norris of Brown Bombshell, a Brooklyn-based T-shirt line, were concerned about organizers potentially reducing the number of days the festival would occupy Ogontz Avenue.

Germaine said that organizers would have to keep the festival going for at least two days for her to make the trip next year.

“It’s not worth it to come in if we’re not even going to make back the vendor fee plus,” said Germaine as she sat behind a table blanketed with shirts.

She said the vendor fee for this year’s festival was $850.

Lynn Riley, a saxophonist from Mt. Airy who performed at the festival this year, said that things just wouldn’t be the same if the festival was split up into separate events around the city.

“Having everything in one space allows people to pick and choose and it’s a place for people to come together,” said Riley.

If possible, Riley says organizers should maintain the event’s original form as much as possible, including the price of admission.

“It’s hard to find free music and to have such diversity and a quality and have it really relatively accessible,” said Riley.

World Village’s White said fans of the festival have no need to worry. The details may still be up in the air but the spirit of the event will remain intact.

“It’s going to be an amazing transformation and you’re going to see one amazing series of events that’s going to take place that’s going to be called the West Oak Lane Jazz and Arts Festival,” said White.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal