The 2012 West Oak Lane Jazz and Arts Festival has been canceled

Tuesday’s announcement that the 2012 West Oak Lane Jazz & Arts Festival was canceled came as a major surprise to Sonya Akines, owner of Sweets By Sonya on Ogontz Avenue.

That’s because less than a week ago, someone came into the bakery and café she opened just before last year’s festival and left some flyers behind seeking artists and others to participate in what she was told was an upcoming event.

“I had no idea,” Akines told NewsWorks on Tuesday afternoon, noting that there was no date for the event listed on those flyers. “I was really looking forward to it, was recruiting help [for the store] for it. I’m going to lose a lot of money.”

Not too far up the block on which the jazz festival activity centers, Green Soul restaurant co-owner Akil Collins learned that the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation (OARC) had canceled the annual three-day event, which drew droves of people – and dollars – to West Oak Lane.

“I’m a little disappointed,” he said. “It was good for business and good for the area. It’s not a good thing. Even if they scaled it back some, that would have been good still, but to completely not have it hurts.”

OARC’s announcement

OARC’s cancellation notice, which was emailed out to media outlets, reads, in part, “OARC plans to create opportunities to display local talent, local artists, and local entertainers, in various venues throughout the year. We are proud of what has been accomplished … and will continue the OARC mission of revitalization by creating events that have the same meaningful purpose as the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival.”

A June 2011 story on NewsWorks noted that “a consultant for this year’s West Oak Lane Jazz Festival says the event will not receive state funding in 2012.” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Tuesday night that state monies did, in fact, disappear.

However, Naja Killebrew, OARC’s director of marketing and public relations, said the cancellation was not due to a funding issue.

“The festival was never supposed to be something that was going to last forever,” she said, noting the benefits to local businesses and community at large in the event’s first eight years. “We accomplished everything we wanted to with it.”

OARC president responds

Jack Kitchen, OARC’s president and chief executive officer, noted Tuesday that cancellation has been discussed for the past two years.

“Our decision to continue the past two years was largely based upon our concern of how the economy would affect the community if we discontinued. I am convinced today that West Oak Lane is weathering the economic storm better than most communities,” Kitchen emailed in response to several questions sent to him Tuesday afternoon.

“Funding from federal, state, city, as well as foundation and corporate [sources] has diminished for all non-profits leaving many to struggle and, in some cases, close,” Kitchen continued.

Asked what he would tell businesses concerned about the loss of festival crowds, Kitchen noted, “We are in the early stages of implementing a plan that would have entertainment 12 months of the year as opposed to two-and-a-half days. I believe that by creating a 12-month entertainment venue, the impact will result in a more consistent year-round attraction to the corridor.”

State Rep. Dwight Evans, who helped bring state money home for the festival, did not respond to a request for an interview Tuesday.

What follows is the full text of the OARC press release:

PHILADELPHIA –This year, the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation (OARC) will not host a West Oak Lane Jazz & Arts Festival. Created in 2003, this free festival was held annually in June, and completed its 8th year in 2011. Over the years, the festival attracted audiences of up to a half-million people during the three-day period the events took place.

For almost a decade, the event drew tourists from around the country and the world. The festival’s main purpose was to introduce local Delaware Valley families and businesses to the area. One of OARC’s goals for the festival was to establish West Oak Lane as a healthy, viable community for families and businesses to relocate within the region. The real importance of this event has been its role in restoring a once-dying commercial area and decaying residential zone, transforming the community into a vibrant family and business friendly destination.

OARC is extremely proud of the international acclaim the festival has received and the results of a transformed and rebranded community. There is no denying the economic impact that the festival has had on local businesses. Our vision moving forward is to present a new Arts & Culture series to showcase the best local and regional upcoming talent. OARC plans to create opportunities to display local talent, local artists, and local entertainers, in various venues throughout the year. We are proud of what has been accomplished thus far and will continue the OARC mission of revitalization by creating events that have the same meaningful purpose as the West Oak Lane Jazz & Arts Festival.

We thank all of the artists, sponsors, exhibitors, vendors, agencies and attendees who have participated and contributed to make the West Oak Lane Jazz and Arts Festival a success. OARC looks forward to your continued support, as we transition to the new Arts and Culture series.

OARC is charged with creating innovative solutions to enable individuals and businesses to make a wider range of products and services available locally. Through valuable partnerships and innovative programs, OARC is a fresh wind in the field of community development, proving that no community goal is too ambitious. In the process, we will continue to provide hope and inspiration to residents of all communities. Change is inevitable, growth is intentional.

For information and updates about future OARC events, please visit our website: www.oarcphilly.org.

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