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Ottawa Jazz Festival AGM talks money, not music

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The Ottawa Jazz Festival lost $28,913 in 2012, primarily due to a 16% drop in box office revenues compared to 2011, according to the financial statements presented to the festival's 2012 annual general meeting.

Money was the main topic of conversation at the Ottawa Jazz Festival's annual meetingUnsurprisingly, money was the main topic of conversation at the lightly-attended AGM on November 22.

In fact, it was practically the only topic, since the festival decided to drop the Programming Committee report to the AGM, and other reports only briefly mentioned the music presented in 2012. Unlike in previous years, there were no hints of what artists or concert formats might be expected for 2013. Festival programming manager Petr Cancura did not attend.

Festival attendance, at 291,000, slipped below 2011 and 2010 levels (295,000 in 2011 and 292,000 in 2010). In contrast, the Vancouver Jazz Festival increased its attendance by 30,000 (5%) in 2012; the Montreal Jazz Festival broke even in 2012 although it had a 3% drop in ticket sales.

Box office revenues dropped from $782,447 in 2011 to $654,835 in 2012, despite increases ranging from 5.3 to 9.4% in the price of festival passes this year.

Festival president Rick Brooks attributed the drop to tough economic times. “It's hard what's going on in Ottawa with cutbacks in the government and how that impacts a lot of our members. It's hard to find dollars that people have that they can afford to spend on tickets. … We wish our [financial] numbers had been higher than they were, I wish there hadn't been a $29,000 loss, but I think that's an indication of the economy.”

Festival executive producer Catherine O'Grady said that “things come in cycles, and some years are better to us than others”, and the festival will certainly try to not to have a deficit again. She said that the best-selling concert at the 2012 festival was the double bill of Ziggy Marley and Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers: “a wonderful night of great music, great weather, and lots of laughs.”

Unlike in previous years, the festival did not separately tally the revenue from the summer festival and from the winter concert series, but instead lumped all the ticket revenue together.


Also down substantially were grants (by $79,737 or 8%), concessions (by $34,753 or 20%), and advertising (by $15,507 or 55%). Corporate sponsorship increased by $109,047 (35%). O'Grady noted that festival T-shirts completely sold out this year, and Brooks added that the shirts were better this year.

The only substantial increase in expenses was for festival staff wages and contract services, up 32% to $470,002. Brooks attributed this to an increase in staff, as well as catch-up salary increases after the festival ended a wage freeze.

Musicians' fees and other programming costs were down by 2.8% to $922,380. Facility and equipment costs increased by 6.8% to $434,192.

Festival treasurer John Jackson noted that previous accumulated surpluses would easily cover this year's deficit: “we're very solid.”

In other news, O'Grady confirmed that the Jazz Youth Summit would be continuing, with TD sponsoring it for the next two years. The future of the Summit had been in doubt after the National Capital Commission dropped its sponsorship last year.

The Summit brings together top young jazz musicians from across Canada for a ten-day intensive program which includes master classes by leading jazz musicians (for example, Bela Fleck, Darcy James Argue, and Herbie Hancock), and attendance at festival concerts. They perform on the festival main stage (twice in 2012).

O'Grady read out some figures from the festival's 2012 media and marketing report, based on surveys of attendees:

  • The gender balance of festival attendees has shifted: it is now 52% female, Three years ago, O'Grady said the festival had attracted slightly more men than women.
  • More than three-quarters of those attending are returning customers (one of the highest percentages of any Canadian festival). 30% have attended for ten years or more; 23% for the first time.
  • Almost 80% of audience members are 35 years old or older (20.5% aged 18-34; 35% from 35-54; 30.6% from 55 to 64).
  • 19% are tourists, and 65% of those came specifically for the festival.
  • 6% of the attendees went to the free shows.

Near the end of the meeting, one festival volunteer requested that the festival develop an anti-harassment policy, reflecting the passage of Toby's Law by the Ontario legislature in 2012 and particularly addressing the rights and responsibilities of LGBT volunteers and staff, in order to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and knows they are safe at the festival. He emphasized the importance of making the anti-harassment policy explicitly visible on the festival website and in its volunteer handbook, and adding sensitivity training. The festival board's Governance Committee agreed to look at this. O'Grady noted that the festival had recently provided accessibility training for its volunteers and staff to educate them about their obligations under the Ontario Disabilities Act.

While the meeting met quorum, that was primarily because of 108 proxy votes. It was announced at the start of the meeting that there were 20 voting members in attendance. The festival has more than 500 volunteers, each of whom is a voting member.

The festival will be working on balancing its books next week, with its annual fundraiser on December 6, featuring singer Jill Barber. Its concert programming starts up again in 2013 with the Winter Jazz Festival from January 31 to February 2. The 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival will run from July 20 to July 1.

    – Alayne McGregor

Full disclosure: Alayne McGregor is a 23-year volunteer with the Ottawa Jazz Festival, in the Souvenirs (T-shirts) area.

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