THE BLOG

Keeping Jazz Alive Without Government Funding

04/09/2014 12:54 EDT | Updated 06/13/2014 05:59 EDT

The Ontario Government is carrying about $267+ billion in debt. It is looking at another annual deficit of around $11+ billion dollars.

The Toronto city government has annual, ongoing salary commitments and obligations to police, fire, emergency personnel and city staff. Together with massive capital commitments for transit, Gardiner and public housing, and much much more.

These governments are strapped for revenues. And there aint much extra "cheddar" for small arts organizations.

Somehow the provincial and city governments can find the "flow" for such high profile cultural institutions as The ROM, the Toronto Opera, the Toronto Symphony and TIFF. TO's culture glam bodies.

But for the hundreds of small TO arts organizations that nourish, sustain and provide the necessary blood for TO's high and low culture, the government cupboard is generally bare.

But fret not, cultural fashionistas.

There are a few outstanding non-profit arts organizations here in Toronto that thrive and prosper, without a shilling from our government's coffers.

One such arts organization is JPEC (Jazz Performance and Education Centre).

JPEC is worthy of our attention, because in these times of government cutbacks, the JPECs of Toronto will survive and succeed, while those other Toronto organizations, too dependent upon government largesse, will shrivel and die as taxpayer money dries up.

So what is so special about JPEC? And what can we learn from this David among the cultural Goliaths of Toronto?

Firstly, operators of such small organizations must be passionate, committed, smart, focused, organized and visionary.

As Exhibit "A", I give you the founders and driving forces of JPEC, the husband and wife team of Ray and Rochelle Koskie. Ray is a retired labor lawyer and pension specialist. Rochelle is a multi-discipline artist and was involved in local Toronto theatre for years in many capacities.

Together they share a lifelong love of music, especially jazz.

Secondly, the arts organization should establish a clear set of objectives which guide and drive the organization and all its employees and members.

For Exhibit "B", the Koskies, in 2008, set up JPEC as a non-profit charitable organization, "to inspire and grow audiences for jazz music in Canada."

Specifically, the Koskies established these three inter-related primary objectives:

1. To educate audiences and students of all ages about the rich heritage of jazz, its great works and musicians, and the relationship between jazz and other disciplines;

One method is through performance, by presenting accessible performances by local and international jazz artists at very affordable prices and by reaching out to communities in need with subsidized tickets.

JPEC's last 6 performance jazz concert series, entitled, "The Flavorful Colours of Jazz at the Paintbox Bistro" featured the legendary American jazz great, Randy Weston

and the unique Cuban jazz of the Luis Mario Ochoa Quintet.

Another method is through featured performers engaging in conversation with the audience-explaining their work and exchanging ideas. JPEC is dedicated to making the music and the music makers accessible and understood as well as appreciated;

2. To provide a Toronto venue so outstanding local, national and international jazz artists can perform their artistry.

As Rochelle Koskie, noted, "We graduate 400 jazz musicians every year in Ontario. Where do they go? Where is the hub?"

Clearly, Ms. Koskie hoped that JPEC would provide a home where jazz artists and jazz fans could meet and experience marvelous jazz first-hand by great jazz artists and converse about jazz.

In order to provide exposure for talented young jazz musicians, JPEC features student university trios for hour long performances prior to each main jazz performance. Personally, I was blown away by the talented Josh Smiley U of T Student Trio, when I attended one of JPEC's Saturday night concerts.

3. To give back to the community. It is also important for JPEC to bring music and jazz to Toronto public schools in communities where resources for music are limited. JPEC has accomplished this by sponsoring musicians presenting special daytime workshops for school groups and other groups within the community.

Exhibit "C" -- Chris O'Neil's Drum Café, which provided drums to 700 students at the Rockford School. And taught interactive drumming to create co-operation and stimulate learning in the children.

According to the Koskies, mentoring the next generation of talented young Canadian musicians is a major goal of JPEC. They point to studies that link music study to academic achievement and even to success later in life. "Playing music demands dedication, discipline and teamwork," says Rochelle Koskie. "And it also helps children to solve problems in creative and imaginative ways."

Thirdly, the ongoing financial support of individuals and public and private corporate sponsors is critical.

The Koskies learned early in this fund-raising process that the best and most enduring financial supporters were those who not only had the financial means, but also shared a love of music and jazz.

Through hard work and determination, JPEC has developed a very strong advisory/financial support group which has sustained JPEC since its inception.

Exhibit "D" -- such diverse sponsors and supporters as Daniels Corporation and Mitchell Cohen, Cadillac, Koskie Minsky LLP, Carpenters District Council, LIUNA, Benefit Plan Administrators, TD Bank, RBC and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.

Fourthly, strategic networking and partnering are essential.

In the last year JPEC networked with Mitch Cohen and Daniels Corporation, the visionary re-developers of Regent Park and Chris Klugman, proprietor of Paintbox Bistro.

And finally, JPEC found a home in the Paintbox Bistro, a cool bistro and employer of local residents, which is in turn housed in the Daniels Spectrum- a beautiful building for the Regent Park community containing art/music schools, libraries, performance venues and meeting rooms.

JPEC is hard evidence that a small Toronto arts organization can survive and prosper without government handouts.

JPEC is an excellent example of how a non-profit partnered with the private sector can act effectively in the public interest and do good work for the greater Toronto community.