Where Does The Jazz Fest Money Go?

There’s a growing chorus of music lovers who complain it costs too much to go to Jazz Fest. General admission tickets cost $70 in advance and $80 at the gate. Kids, two to 10-years-old, get in for $5, and today, locals with valid Louisiana photo IDs can get in for $50.

Not everyone realizes the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell is actually owned by a local nonprofit called The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. The foundation uses Jazz Fest net profits to sponsor multiple programs that have become a part of the city’s cultural economy.

Instead of harping on the cacophonous costs, one Jazz Fest enthusiast says you should trumpet the cause.

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“The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has an economic impact of more than $300 million a year on New Orleans and the surrounding region,” said Scott Aiges, the director of programs, marketing and communications of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. “That’s the ripple effect of all the direct spending of the festival as well as all the secondary spending associated with the festival and people who attend. We don’t publish the specific financial results of the festival in any given year other than to report on attendance, but the net profits of the festival go to the foundation, which uses that money for all of the year-round programs that we do. We don’t publish the details of the foundation’s operating budget, but to give an indication of how much we spend in the community, we provide nearly $1 million a year directly to other organizations through our Community Partnership Grants, and that’s just one of our many community development programs. We spend millions of dollars each year in direct service to the community through educational and other programs.”

A quintet of foundation programs hit a high note among young people destined to become the next generation of talented New Orleans musicians. The Heritage School of Music, at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center, 1225 N. Rampart St., offers more than 200 students free music lessons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Not only do kids, aged eight to 18, learn how to play music, but many are given new musical instruments to keep.

The Class Got Brass contest supports arts education schools, promotes cultural traditions and gives away more than $40,000 worth of instruments to New Orleans school band directors and their students.

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The foundation and the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission have created and are growing a free music education outreach program that currently includes two campuses in Gentilly and Algiers Point, and the foundation sponsors free pro audio workshops for teenagers to learn everything from running sound for live concerts to producing records. 

Local kids also have access to free hip hop beat making workshops, thanks to a collaboration between the Foundation and the Upbeat Academy FoundationOn Monday and Wednesday afternoons at the Jazz & Heritage Center, teenagers learn how to use mixers, turntables, production software and computers.

“I don’t think we would be so bold as to suggest that any one of our programs is singularly responsible for the continuation of the culture,” said Aiges. “But we do what we can! Things like Class Got Brass are super important in keeping our traditions alive. Young kids today may love brass band music, but the bands they see on the street are as likely to be wearing T-shirts and baseball caps as shirts and ties and five-pointed hats. But having all of our contestants wear the traditional dress, play a traditional hymn as a dirge and things like that, we help to make sure that at least some of our young people will have an education in how the tradition was carried on in previous generations. The pro audio workshops are cool because they’re virtually unique – there are hardly any other resources for kids interested in that stuff to get education in it. And believe me, we’ve found them! The kids in our pro audio classes are 40 of the most die-hard music-nerd teenagers you’ve ever seen, and they don’t mind listening to a two-hour lecture on the differences between a ribbon microphone and a condenser microphone. They eat it up! And if this helps to prepare them for career opportunities in the music business, it’s an even bigger win. The hip hop beat making classes are great because even though they might not be playing ‘instruments,’ the students are learning how to use digital technology in a way that satisfies a creative need – it provides all the same benefits as traditional music education.”

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Teaching locals about the music business and how to capitalize on culture are also Foundation motifs. Through the Catapult Fund, up to a dozen small business participants get to attend weekly classes teaching bottom line fundamentals, get help writing business plans and have the opportunity to win cash grants to support their entrepreneurial ventures. Through Sync Up Music and Sync Up Cinema, the foundation has hosted multiple educational, professional development and networking events for the local entertainment industry.

“It’s hard to measure specifically how much impact something like Sync Up has,” said Aiges. “We provide education, exposure to resources and opportunities to network. It’s up to the participants to take advantage of all that, and tracking their successes isn’t easy. Anecdotally, we hear lots of stories of people getting distribution deals and that kind of thing after meeting someone at Sync Up. So we know it’s working for some people, and that makes it worth the effort. A program like the Catapult Fund is much more targeted. We impact a cohort of 12 small business owners with each session, and we can track very specifically how useful the program is for them and whether they’ve had success as a result of participating. Considered all together, initiatives like these are more likely to impact the growth of the cultural economy over the long term, rather than in one sudden burst.”

The foundation’s crescendo of communications is WWOZ 90.7 FMThe Jazz & Heritage community radio station has become a musical calling card for New Orleans as its local DJs spin and broadcast the sounds of the Crescent City to the world through the airwaves and the internet.

“WWOZ is one of our biggest assets not just in terms of the number of people involved in the operation, but in the sense that it has a massive impact on the local community and has a worldwide reach on the web,” said Aiges. “On top of all the educational and cultural programs of the foundation, we also have a major media outlet in WWOZ to broadcast our message while supporting the culture.”

The foundation also funds and produces many free festivals and concerts, Congo Square lecture series and gives away community outreach tickets to Jazz Fest. Since 1985, the Foundation has distributed more than 8,500 free Jazz Fest tickets to low-income recipients, and since 1979, the Foundation has invested Jazz Fest proceeds back into the community though Community Partnership Grants. Totaling more than $6.5 million, these grants strike a chord at local schools, nonprofits, arts organizations, event presenters and artists creating new work. If you’d like to apply for one, the deadline for the 2018 – 2019 grant cycle is Monday, May 14.

“Those are all very different in terms of their target audiences or impact,” said Aiges. “The festivals and concerts provide employment and showcasing opportunities for musicians in a setting that reflects well on them, and they provide cultural enrichment for the community in addition to supporting the cultural economy by attracting visitors. The lecture series satisfies a need in the community for a more thoughtful or intellectual examination of cultural issues. The outreach tickets program helps to make Jazz Fest accessible for low-income people. We hope people consider these initiatives to be as important as we think they are.”

Targeting seniors is a soulful venture with the Johnny Jackson, Jr. Gospel Is Alive! celebration, an annual free concert featuring gospel talent on the Monday following the first weekend of Jazz Fest.

“It’s a collaboration with the New Orleans Council on Aging,” said Aiges. “So we have direct access to their clients and we provide transportation for them to attend the concert. We think it’s pretty effective in reaching at least a portion of the senior community. We don’t have any plans at the moment to expand the initiative, but it’s something we’d consider if the resources become available.”

The foundation’s finale is a major undertaking, creating a Jazz & Heritage Archive. Designed to be a resource for everyone interested in Louisiana culture, it collects and protects materials of cultural and historical significance in addition to the records of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation and its assets and programs from oral histories to Jazz Fest contracts. The catalog is online, and there’s also a database of Jazz Fest performances so you can discover how many times your favorite band performed at the Fest over the last 49 years.

“The Jazz & Heritage Archive is something that was originally envisioned by the late Allison Miner,” said Aiges. “We’re really carrying on her legacy by keeping the Archive relevant and vital. In addition to safekeeping all of the media and artifacts that document Jazz Fest and the Foundation, it also continues to make resources available with things like the searchable online catalog and the online database of Jazz Fest performers. We also recently acquired the massive library of footage of Louisiana culture compiled by the filmmaker Michael Murphy. By making all of these things accessible to scholars and researchers and the general public, we hope to provide primary source material for works that will continue interpreting the culture for many years to come.”

If you’ve changed your tune and want to support The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation above and beyond what you pay at the Jazz Fest gate, you can make a tax-deductible contribution to the foundation here.


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PHOTO CAPTION: Scott Aiges, The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s director of programs, marketing and communications

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