How Tri-C JazzFest Became a "Destination Event" (With Help from the Cleveland Foundation)

The Cleveland Foundation awarded a $80,000 Centennial Gift Grant to fund the Tri-C JazzFest in an ongoing effort to strengthen the event's reputation as one of the country's premier jazz festivals.

Every arts organization wants its festival to be a "destination event." And more often than not, such organizations realize that the best way accomplish this goal is through money, naturally. Equipped with sufficient funding, organizations can attract top-tier talent that will, in turn, draw larger crowds. And presto, you have your "destination event."

That said, there are some structural flaws with this logic. For starters, as previously noted, top-tier talent requires top-tier funding. Bring in an A-list performer who commands a huge pay day and suddenly your festival may no longer free to the public. Or perhaps other unforeseen expenses pop up and suddenly that extra money runs out sooner than expected.

Of course, this isn't to say that money isn't one of the more critical components of planning a destination event. Rather, we're arguing that other factors also need to be taken into account. And this is where recent news out of Cleveland proves to be enlightening. The Tri-C JazzFest is now entering it's 35th year, and 2014's installment has been tweaked in an effort to make it even more attractive to area music lovers. For starters, the date has been changed. Previously, the festival was held in the spring, but now, after 34 years, it's being held in June in an effort to — and here we quote the press release — "become even more of a destination event."

In addition, the festival's roster seems to indicate planners have adopted a "more is more" strategy. In addition to 12 ticketed events, the festival is offering sixteen free shows across three days, plus one big-ticket free show featuring Grammy winner Gregory Porter. In fact, the Cleveland Foundation — as part of its Centennial gift to JazzFest — bought out the Porter concert and gave the tickets to community members. The tickets were claimed within 24 hours back in March. 

This brings us back to the Cleveland Foundation's gift. Does the $80,000 help? Of course it does. In fact, the foundation has given the festival close to $850,000 over the course of its 35-year history. But it continues to open its checkbook because festival planners have adopted a successful engagement model. The organizers provide close to two dozen free shows in late June, just as summer is beginning. 

By the way, the Cleveland Foundation isn't the only philanthropic group supporting music in the city. Check out IP's recent take on an impressive Mellon Foundation gift to the Cleveland Orchestra.