Elkhart Jazz Festival receives funding from several sources

A look at the finances behind Jazz Fest.
Posted on June 20, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — While the city of Elkhart contributes nearly one third of the money behind the Jazz Festival, organizers depend on a variety of sources to pull it off each year.

The festival functions on a budget of about $350,000, much of which comes from sponsors and ticket sales.

However, the city funds it indirectly with $100,000 in Economic Development Income Tax funds to the downtown development group, Downtown Elkhart Inc.

DEI, which oversees the Jazz Festival and is involved with other numerous efforts, then uses the money at its discretion.

The festival has one full-time employee, an administrator, and one seasonal employee who begins work months before the festival.

“We run a pretty lean ship for an event this size from at least a labor standpoint,” said Tim Shelly, an attorney who serves in a volunteer capacity as chairman of the festival.

City funding, corporate sponsorships and ticket sales each cover about one third of the budget, Shelly said.

Food vendors who work on the plaza also pay a fee to the festival that generates upward of $10,000, according to Shelly.

While the Elkhart County Fair draws more people, Diana Lawson, executive director of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said she considers the Jazz Festival to be the premiere signature event compared to other events in the county.

Organizers are predicting upward of 25,000 will attend the festival this weekend.

Lawson estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the jazz fest attendees are from outside the area.

Given the amount of money the city provides to the festival, Lawson said it pays off nicely.

She said one of the most important aspects of economic development involves the image of the community people are left with after visiting an event. For Elkhart that means showing off an attractive downtown that is energized with friendly people.

“The Jazz Festival showcases all of those attributes in the best sense,” Lawson said.

But aside from the finances, organizers will tell you volunteers are tremendously important.

As of Tuesday, 219 people were working as volunteers, Shelly said.

Volunteers fill the roles of ticket takers, production staff, and are a huge part of the various committees that oversee a wide range of issues including talent, travel, safety, sponsorship, marketing and promotions.

Even the table tents used at some of the events are designed by volunteers.

“We couldn’t have the festival if it weren’t for that,” Shelly said.

Other volunteers work as drivers and staff the hospitality room where musicians tend to mingle and hang out in between shows.

“We probably take care of the musicians better than they normally get taken care of,” Shelly said. “I think that’s why they like to come back.”

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