The music flowed and the crowds came.
The Elkhart Jazz Festival was a big deal again in downtown Elkhart.
The 27th annual event reflected the economic recovery after the Great Recession, in no small part because of the sponsorships that were part of this year’s festival. That kind of investment in our community is a key to ongoing growth and improving life here.
In the early 1990s, Bayer Corp. was a major sponsor. That money dwindled as the pharmaceutical company’s presence in the city did too, according to a 2010 story in The Elkhart Truth.
By the time the Great Recession hit, the deficits for the jazz festival had hit five figures. The crowds had dwindled a bit. There was serious talk of cutting the festival from three days to two.
Over time, events, like nearly everything, need to adapt and change. Festivals must find new sources of revenue and ways to attract crowds while retaining the heritage that made them successful.
In Elkhart, the jazz festival has rebounded. The beautiful Lerner Theatre created a place for acts such as Wynton Marsalis, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Aaron Neville to showcase their talents. Ticket sales overall are strong. This year’s list of sponsors is long and distinguished. (In full disclosure, The Elkhart Truth is among the sponsors.)
It helps that many companies are seeing bigger profits. It’s easier to write a check now than in 2008, but it’s not a given that a stronger economy will result in more sponsorships.
While the days of Bayer sponsoring the festival are gone, another major employer stepped forward this year. For the first time, Forest River, a manufacturer of recreational vehicles, is supporting the jazz festival. It’s fitting that a company making products people use for recreation supports a recreational activity in this community. The company’s $50,000 commitment both this year and in 2015 is significant.
The Elkhart County Community Foundation is another sponsor of this year’s festival. After a historic gift from the Guy David Gundlach estate, it has money to support a range of things in our community. Foundation officials already announced that they will focus on “quality of place” and “youth development.”
The foundation will not give money toward every need in our community, but it will look to leverage generosity by partnering with others to support causes, events and non-profits.
There will be plenty of opportunities. Non-profits need the support. So do events and, in new ways, so do our schools.
People in Elkhart County tend to have a generous spirit. Jazz festival musicians and fans they attract talk about how nice people are here.
Elkhart County is good at making things. It has the resources to make this a place to live that is the envy of the Midwest. But that takes a range of contributions.
The sponsors stepped forward to support this year’s jazz festival showed how sweet collaboration can look and sound.