February-25th-2005, 09:44 PM
Ford pulls out of Detroit Jazz Fest
Ford to pull out of jazz festival
BY MARK STRYKER
FREE PRESS MUSIC WRITER
February 25, 2005
Ford Motor Co. will not renew its $250,000 title sponsorship of the Detroit International Jazz Festival, plunging the annual Labor Day weekend event into its most serious fight for survival in more than a decade.
If Music Hall, which produces the festival, cannot replace Ford's annual contribution -- 21 percent of the proposed budget for 2005 -- then one of the city's signature cultural events could fold on the brink of its 26th anniversary.
Ford, which has sponsored the downtown festival since 1995, cited concerns over Music Hall's budget and business plan for 2005, which extends the festival from Hart Plaza into Campus Martius Park, adds music beyond jazz and recommends moving the dates to early August. Company officials favored the expansion but thought it would cost more than the $1.2 million in the Music Hall proposal.
Music Hall president Sandy Duncan said a replacement for Ford's dollars needs to be found within 30 days to allow the festival enough time to plan and produce a viable 2005 event. "It's our intent to keep the jazz festival alive by finding another title sponsor, or several title sponsors, to share the cost," he said.
Ford's departure is the latest twist in the saga of the festival, which has teetered on the brink of collapse since 2000 because of stagnant corporate support, more than $1 million in red ink and stiff competition from Arts, Beats & Eats, the gargantuan Labor Day weekend street fair in Pontiac that now outdraws the jazz festival by about a 2-1 margin.
Still, the festival remains one of the city's most revered cultural jewels, attracting 600,000 people in 2004.
Losing the festival would not only be a black eye for Detroit as it prepares for the 2006 Super Bowl, it also would drive another stake through the heart of the city's soul. The festival grew out of Detroit's reputation as a jazz mecca.
"It has become very much part of the fabric of our city," said former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer. "The jazz festival is to music in Detroit as the Red Wings, Tigers, Pistons and Lions are to pro sports. It's something to cherish, and you don't really know what you'd miss until you lose it."
Finding new sponsorship in Michigan's sputtering economy will not be easy. Music Hall officials have approached General Motors Corp., which sponsors other Music Hall programs, but support for the festival is unlikely.
In a written statement, Rod Gillum, GM vice president of corporate responsibility and diversity, said, "Underwriting the jazz festival is not in our plan for 2005."
Music Hall officials are exploring several options, each with its own hurdles.
They say they'll contact Chrysler, already the title sponsor of Arts, Beat & Eats. Competition with the Pontiac event, which has siphoned audiences and food vendors from the jazz festival, is the main reason Music Hall may sacrifice its Labor Day perch. Should the festival move, Chrysler could sponsor both events without competing against itself.
Brian Glowiak, vice president of the DaimlerChrysler Corp. Fund, did not return a call on Thursday.
In the absence of a single title sponsor, Duncan said a coalition of corporations could take up the slack. Another possibility would be the $325,000 in remaining funds granted by the Knight Foundation of Miami, to finance the festival expansion. However, that money was granted under a multiyear contract and any changes would have to be approved by foundation officials.
Another option would be to turn the festival into a ticketed event, which would require city approval. Lobbyists for Detroit's beleaguered electronic music festival on Memorial Day weekend are pitching the idea to the Detroit City Council of charging for admission. Approval could set a precedent, allowing the jazz festival to charge as well. However, this could radically alter the character of the event.
Duncan said Music Hall officials are not considering a scaled-back festival for 2005 and remain committed to the expansion. He also said the idea of taking a 1-year reprieve would be a last resort. "If you let something die, it's very difficult to bring it back," he said.
Music Hall's relationship with Ford has grown rocky in recent years. While Ford has been happy with the artistic lineups by jazz festival director Frank Malfitano, company officials have been disappointed with Music Hall's marketing efforts, missed deadlines and corporate hospitality issues, such as providing an adequate number of parking passes for Ford executives.
Ron Thomas, manager of corporate alliance for Ford, declined to give specifics but did say that Ford had asked for improvements that were not made.
Thomas said Ford believed the expansion -- with or without the date change -- was an ideal way to broaden the festival's appeal, attract better food vendors and better compete with the Pontiac festival.
But Ford officials thought the expansion, which would include two additional music stages at Campus Martius, would add more than $200,000 to the budget. "I think the budget was not substantial enough to support the expansion," said Thomas.