While jazz is famous for its improvisation, organizers of the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival have no interest in doing it solo as they deal with an unexpected, last-minute loss in funding from the provincial government.
The festival received notice May 31, three weeks before its opening night, that the Celebrate Ontario grant in the amount of $290,000 was not happening this year.
The money had been annually awarded to the music festival for the past 12 years and represents about 7 percent of its $4 million budget. More than a dozen other local festivals were also affected.
At least one Ottawa businessman has reacted to the jazz bad dreadful news by joining on as a corporate sponsor, and is hoping others do the same. Quito Maggi, president and CEO of Mainstreet Research, a national polling firm, said the timing of the cuts seemed grossly unfair to him.
“It just didn’t feel right,” Maggi told OBJ.social at the VIP Tent on Friday night, as organizers launched the 39th edition of the festival with Los Anormales and Judith Hill at Marion Dewar Plaza, next to Ottawa City Hall.
“Yes, government priorities change but having it be at the last minute; it’s just not good public policy," said Maggi. "I live in the community, I’m from Ottawa. I thought, 'Let me call and see what they need, and if there's a gap that I can help fill'."
The pollster also surveyed 634 Ottawa residents and found that two-thirds of respondents do not approve of the cuts.
The loss of the stable funding has left long-time JazzFest executive producer Catherine O’Grady furious.
“To not get the funding this year was really unbelievable for us,” she told OBJ.social. “We had no indication that the money would not be forthcoming."
The money was to help the festival cover its out-of-town marketing initiatives associated with enticing jazz-loving tourists from the rest of Ontario, Quebec and northern New York State.
“The purpose of the grant is also to attract talents like Norah Jones, The Roots and Chicago," said O'Grady. "We signed those contracts months and months ago.
“Are we going to be known as the organization that dishonours its contracts and be blacklisted internationally for not honouring its commitment to mega-superstars? No.
"What we're going to do is rely completely on our audiences to come out in force and help make up the shortfall, along with generous business supporters who see the value in what we do."
“What we're going to do is rely completely on our audiences to come out in force and help make up the shortfall, along with generous business supporters who see the value in what we do.”
So far, close to $10,000 has been donated by supporters who are doing what they can to help, she said. “A woman stopped me on the street and opened her purse and gave me a $20 bill the other day.”
The festival has also been working with Ottawa Festivals and Mayor Jim Watson. A pocket of money has been found within the tourism ministry, to be split up among festivals that aren’t receiving Celebrate Ontario grants, but it won't come close to filling the gap, said O'Grady.
The Ministry has responded by saying it received more than 400 submissions this year and has placed significant focus on providing support to new and emerging events across the province.
The VIP Tent was packed Friday night as the weather cooperated perfectly for launching both the festival and the official first day of summer.
Thyme & Again, which is a long-time sponsor of the festival, caters the VIP Tent. Invited guests also enjoyed drinks from Beau’s Brewery, KIN Vineyards, Flying Canoe Hard Cider and Top Shelf Distillers.
Sighted in the crowd was lawyer Pat Santini. His firm, Kelly Santini LLP, is among the festival sponsors, as well. It will be hosting clients in the VIP Tent this Saturday night, while The Roots perform.
“Clients love it, we love it,” he told OBJ.social. “It’s an opportunity to let our hair down.”
Among the many friendly faces were volunteers from The Ottawa Riverkeeper Gala and organizers from The Ottawa Mission’s Blue Door Gala — both causes that Thyme and Again's Sheila Whyte and Michael Moffatt support.
German Ambassador Sabine Sparwasser and British High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque were seen hanging out in the tent together, along with their husbands.
Also out that night were Ottawa Community Foundation CEO Marco Pagani, Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) artistic director Eric Coates, Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, the National Arts Centre's music director, Alexander Shelley, and his wife, Zoe, and long-time Ottawa music maven Harvey Glatt.