Jazz Plus unveils plans to raise cash
Sonoma Jazz Plus rolled out its fundraising campaign Tuesday, warning that if goals aren't met, the late spring music festival will be a memory.
Setting a goal of $500,000 by mid-August, Jim Horowitz, president and CEO, outlined hopes to engage at least one more major sponsor and several smaller ones, to increase the number of supporters in the "patrons" range and to reach out to the public for donations.
"Union Bank has stepped up and made a three-year commitment," he said, addressing a group of about 45 at Ramekins Culinary School and Event Center. "We need others to follow their example."
Citing the economic downturn that has affected sponsors, patrons and general ticket sales, Horowitz said the event lost $200,000 this year. The Sonoma organization's parent nonprofit, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, absorbed the loss but is reluctant to continue to do so unless it believes the event has local support and is "on the right track," said Horowitz. The amount set as the target goal will cover the loss and create a cushion for next year's event.
"Aug. 15 is the target date to see how close we can get," said Horowitz. "We have to know by then in order to move forward." If sufficient funds are raised, booking of artists will be done in November.
In order for organizers to get feedback on the event, the public is being asked to fill out a survey located on the festival website, www.sonomajazz.org. Various donor opportunities are also listed.
While not providing specific numbers, or a profit and loss statement, Horowitz said they are a 501(C)(3) organization and would be happy to provide financials to anyone who contacts the organization. He did share that 70 percent of the revenue comes from sponsors and patrons, with 30 percent coming from general public ticket sales. Very little is made from merchandise and nothing is made from Wine and Song, the sister event that occurs around the Plaza. Many Sonoma vendors are used during the production stage and the Sonoma payroll is about $50,000.
He added the organization has spent approximately $20 million over the past seven years and has donated close to $500,000 for music programs in Sonoma schools. Despite the loss this year, $60,000 has been set aside by Jazz Aspen for its 2011-12 school contribution.
Suzanne Brangham, a member of the advisory board, noted that not only have the schools received financial contributions to keep music programs alive, the funding provided has purchased music and music stands and has repaired instruments. It also funds music scholarships.
But there were concerns expressed as well. Kathy Witkowicki, executive director of the Mentoring Alliance, pointed out that the original organization was not set up to compete with local nonprofits, but was to "give back."
"Taking $500,000 out of Sonoma Valley takes money away from nonprofits here," she said.
Horowitz responded that while they hope to have a solid base of support from Sonoma, whose businesses and schools are the primary beneficiaries, they will also be speaking with potential corporate sponsors throughout the Bay Area and with supporters in nearby counties.
Another criticism was lodged by a dedicated fan of jazz who said he has not attended the event in the last two years because artists booked are not jazz acts. Horowitz responded that the number of well-known jazz artists who can still do a show in a 4,000-seat venue (the capacity of the large tent), is limited and those who could - name acts such as Tony Bennett and Diana Krall - were booked in the early years of the festival. Other jazz greats fill stadiums. He did point out that the Wine and Song event features jazz acts almost exclusively and, though lesser known, they are very good.
Darius Anderson, a Jazz Aspen Snowmass board member and chairman of the local festival, provided a brief history of the event. He also said organizers are looking to improve the event for Sonoma and are open to all ideas. The audience had several:
• Change the name to reflect the fact that a variety of artists are now featured, not just jazz.
• Make it a larger, outdoor event without the tent.
• Scatter smaller tents in several locations.
• Identify the event with Sonoma.
• Do a better job of marketing contributions to the business community and schools.
• Use more local vendors.
Bill Blum, from MacArthur Place, said hotels and restaurants do benefit from the event, especially since it was moved to the weekend before Memorial Day. But an even greater benefit is that people who come initially to experience the event, often return during the year.
David Cook, representing the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce board, said his organization is a huge supporter of Jazz Plus and hopes it can continue in Sonoma.
"We are trying to transition from an event to an institution," said Horowitz. "Spread the word and urge everyone you know to fill out our survey."