June 22, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Priming the pump
By†Jody Reese

The Downtown Manchester Jazz & Blues Festival last weekend was a modest success, but wasnít nearly what it could or should be.

This isnít the fault of organizers, a group that included Palace Theatre Executive Director Peter Ramsey and local promoter Jim Roach. (Full disclosure: Hippo and yours truly were among those involved behind the scenes.)

The reason the two-day festival didnít reach its full potential was simple ó an almost complete lack of leadership among the cityís business community. Many were called, but few saw fit to put up the seed money needed for an event like this to happen.

Hereís how it works. Without sponsorship money, you canít book acts. Without acts, you donít have a festival. Without a festival, you have nothing to promote. With nothing to promote, you donít attract an audience, and so ticket receipts donít come in. In short, without seed money, it just doesnít work.

And so what has been a promising annual event ó a festival with the potential to greatly enrich Manchesterís cultural calendar and attract thousands of visitors to the city ó lurched again through another year. Will there be another in 2007? Hard to say.

But one thing is clear: the cityís business community and political leadership needs to wake up and recognize how important events such as the Jazz & Blues Festival are to Manchesterís continued prosperity.

Cultural events donít just function as attractions to bring people downtown for a weekend. Theyíre economic development tools (as important as good schools and good sewers) that keep Manchester from being a deadly dull place. Theyíre needed for us to compete.

In Lowell, the cityís annual Folk Festival is a major event that adds to the cityís appeal for creative people and entrepreneurs. In Portsmouth, the annual Prescott Park Arts Festival makes summer a time of continuous celebration, adding to that cityís reputation.

And Manchester? Thatís the place where, between the business community and city government, they can barely scrape together enough money to stage a two-day outdoor jazz festival. Why, bless their souls, theyíre trying so hard.

I know as well as anyone how tough it is to keep a company afloat. But itís not asking too much for local businesses to pony up some cash so that the city can stage a first-class Jazz & Blues Festival.

If we can manage it a few years in a row, then thereís a fair chance the festival will grow in stature and possibly generate enough income to cover most of its costs. By then, itíll be paying dividends in many ways, as such events do in cities everywhere.

Whatís needed right now, however, is money to prime the pump. Businesses need to donate, and for that to happen the city needs to play a more active role, too.

Times are tough. But theyíre only going to get tougher if we donít support efforts to keep Manchester from becoming, culturally speaking, yesterdayís day-old bread.

The next opportunity for businesses to help make things happen is Theatre in the Park, which next month will bring four outdoor performances of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum next month at Veterans Park.

If you do business in Manchester, consider contributing. If the festival takes root, weíll all benefit, but we canít do it without start-up money.


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