Eau Claire Jazz Festival branches out

Story by Nick Gourdoux

The Eau Claire Jazz Festival received a boost earlier this year when it was awarded a pair of grants worth more than $3,000.

The festival began as a university-run program designed to educate and inform middle and high school students about jazz. Now, 43 years later, the Jazz Festival has evolved into a non-profit organization designed to entertain the community, while still being informative and educational towards the students who choose to attend, Executive Director Patty Horecki said. The transition to more of an entertainment event is something organizers said they hope continues to progress.

“Both of the grant processes are competitive,” Horecki said. “Basically, they determine who receives the funding based on the strength of the proposal.”

The $27,933 Joint Marketing Grant awarded by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, and the $3,000 grant awarded by the Wisconsin Art Board, were given specifically to the Jazz Festival through the Convention and Visitors Bureau. These two grants increased the promotional budget for the festival by more than 10 times the original amount – $30,000.

“Now we’ll be able to reach some very specific target areas and will be able to target specific populations not only through our Web site, but also through the traditional (forms of) media,” Horecki said. “We had a commercial made, and we also have a promotional video.”

The impact of the grants is already being felt in the number and location of schools registering to attend the festival, he said.

“Many of the schools that have registered are coming from as far away as Illinois and Iowa, and I’m sure the Dakotas as well,” Horecki said. “We’ll reach a lot of new schools that we’ve never reached before.”

While the size and direction of the festival have changed over the last half-century, the student input has remained a constant. The primary leadership of the festival is still students, said senior Kalah Halek, who is in charge of the scheduling.

“A lot of the work that is done in the jazz office is done by unpaid interns, so (students) play a really intricate role in the running of the festival and scheduling and promoting,” Halek said.

In addition to using student interns, Halek said the Jazz Festival was also planning on using student volunteers to help with tasks during the events.

With the increased promotional funding, the people behind the Jazz Festival say they are expecting a much higher attendance than in previous years. Because of the use of students in the planning and preparing phases, a bigger turnout from the student crowd is also expected, Halek said.

This year’s Jazz Festival is scheduled to run from April 15 to 18. Tickets will range from $5 to $8 for students depending upon which day the events are scheduled for. The events will be held at various different locations, again depending on the day. Tickets and event information are available online at www.eauclairejazz.com.