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    Jazz fest asks city to double donation

    Clearwater would essentially be sponsoring the headlining act if it approves the increase.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 3, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- For everyone who has ever asked Karen Vann -- and there have been several -- why sax player Kenny G. is a no-show at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, here's the simple answer: She can't afford him.

    G., or a musician of his caliber, would probably eat up a chunk of the free festival's $110,000 budget for artists' fees.

    To "step it up a notch," Vann said, and bring large acts like B.B. King, for example, to the annual four-day October festival at Coachman Park, would take a lot of money.

    So Vann, executive director of the non-profit Clearwater Jazz Holiday, is asking Clearwater to chip in an additional $25,000 on top of the $25,000 the city already is giving as a co-sponsor to bring in a popular headliner act. The move, she said, would also motivate major sponsors to follow the city's lead and donate more money to help the festival stay competitive and improve its international status.

    "A lot of my sponsors are stepping it up," said Vann. "The city is a sponsor. This is not a city event."

    Kevin Dunbar, the city's parks and recreation director, said if the City Commission approves the money, Clearwater will in effect become the sponsor of the headliner act.

    The commission will consider the request at a meeting Thursday. At least one commissioner, Bill Jonson, has voiced his concerns.

    "The initial projection was we were going to come up $500,000 short on the budget this year," Jonson said. "I'm thinking I don't want to commit to a new request without understanding where we are in the budget. When your kids ask for money, you have to look at the big picture."

    Upping the ante is a common strategy among fundraisers, said Lee Mergner, publisher of JazzTimes magazine, which he said gave the festival a favorable review last year.

    "There's strength in numbers," he said. "People think, "We should support this, too.' "

    Mergner said organizers of free jazz festivals have a difficult job and must raise funds year-round, much like politicians.

    "It's amazing the dance they have to do," he said.

    Vann said if the festival were a city event, "they would charge at the gate," and aggressive fundraising wouldn't be necessary. But because it isn't, she must rely on sponsorships, grant money, beverage sales and merchandising to produce the festival, and pay costs like air and ground transportation for acts.

    "People don't realize just because it's free, it's not free for us," Vann said.

    The budget for this year's festival, scheduled for Oct. 18-21, is $585,000.

    If the city does earmark the additional money for the jazz festival, it will be another example of its increased involvement in the event. This year, for the first time in its 21-year history, the city will lend the festival its resources, employees and logistical expertise.

    "Our experience (putting on city events) has taught us certain things," said Dunbar. "They want to tap into that."

    Dunbar said anything his department can do to "make Jazz Holiday a better experience for the people who are coming, that's great."

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