Thursday, March 30, 2017
   
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Ottawa Jazz Festival reports small loss, continued worries

Dave Brubeck and the NAC Orchestra drew 10,500 listeners to the 2010 Ottawa Jazz Festival, but fewer passes and tickets were sold this year  photo ©Brett Delmage, 2010The TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival was not immune to the financial malaise affecting other Canadian and local music festivals this year, despite increased box office revenues.

At the Festival's annual general meeting of members on Monday night, treasurer John Jackson explained that the Festival had expected a small deficit from special programming for its 30th anniversary (he pointed out that the 25th and 20th festivals had also run deficits). But the loss of federal Marquee funding, accounting requirements that some 2009 costs be included in the 2010 figures, and reduced ticket sales all contributed to a higher-than-expected deficit of $86,736.

However, this amount is more than covered by the festival's 2009 surplus of $159,352. In three of the last five years, the festival ran a surplus.

Box office revenues reached $604,878 in 2010 (only exceeded by $760,745 in 2005). However, artist expenses increased by $175,176 (almost 25%), and total expenses were up by $347,659 (18%).

Executive producer Catherine O'Grady noted that the Vancouver Jazz Festival lost $250,000 this year while the Toronto Jazz Festival lost $200,000. In Montreal, acts that have always sold out in the past like Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, John Scofield, and Smokey Robinson, still had seats available, and the festival lost $600,000. In Ottawa, the Folk Festival was left with an accumulated debt of about $150,000 this year after poor ticket sales and bad luck with weather.

For the second year, the Ottawa Jazz Festival offered a free concert (featuring Gil Scott-Heron) on the day before the official opening day. The festival planned to have this partially paid for by federal Marquee funding and partially by a provincial "Celebrate Ontario" marketing grant. The 2009 concert was paid for from Marquee funding.

However, a federal cabinet decision that only two festivals in any one area could receive Marquee funding meant that the Jazz Festival was completely shut out. Nor could it use any of the funds from 2009 that it couldn't spend then because of short notice in getting the grant. And it had to put on the free concert because of the Celebrate Ontario commitment. The federal Marquee funding program has now been discontinued.

When asked, O'Grady said she hoped to have another free concert in 2011, but it would depend on "Celebrate Ontario" funding.

At the annual meeting, board members and O'Grady also expressed concern about long-term trends affecting the festival: for example, too large a percentage of its core audience is over 55.

Vice-president Rick Brooks noted that the number of passes sold continued to drop slightly. What concerned him more was that the number of individual tickets sold in 2010 also dropped despite mostly-sunny weather. (Revenues increased because ticket prices increased.) Possible reasons given were lack of awareness of concerts on the part of people who would have attended, the recession, and Canada Day occurring on a weekend.

  – Alayne McGregor