TD NIAGARA JAZZ FESTIVAL
To hear Juliet Dunn tell it, the TD Niagara Jazz Festival was just meant to be. The three-day festival dates to 2014, when she realized that the region was home to a wealth of underutilized talent.
“The region is a culinary destination. Those interested in wine and food like jazz. It just made sense,” says Dunn of her decision to create the festival. “It also creates employment for musicians.”
In the first year, musicians performed from one stage in a park. Since then the festival—which runs annually on the last weekend of July —has expanded to 15 stages and venues, numerous sold-out concerts, and now includes a kid zone, as well as a Dixieland jazz cruise.
Hosting a three-day festival during Niagara’s peak tourist season is filled with challenges, explains Dunn, who is Niagara Jazz’s executive director. “You need a lot of volunteers to pull off a festival; our festival weekend occasionally overlaps with the civic holiday weekend, and other established events take volunteers away.”
Another challenge is funding, as there is a lot of competition for sponsorship dollars.
That’s where the OMDC has been especially helpful, through the Ontario Music Fund (Music Futures stream).
“It’s super important to have their support,” she says. “If we hadn’t received the funding, we probably wouldn’t have been able to sustain the festival.”
Dunn, who is a jazz musician of some note in her own right, adds that the OMDC provides more than just financial support.
“To have that connection to the OMDC is so important. They have more experience, and it is so useful to be able to bounce ideas off them and ask questions.”
The musician is passionate about the impact that Niagara Jazz is having on the area, and shares some feedback she got on the festival.
“A local gent in one of the parks went on a positive rant,” relates Dunn. “He said, ‘I have lived out here for so many years, but I’ve never seen the park so alive.’
“What we are doing is creating change out here.”
For now, Dunn’s main goal is to make the festival sustainable for the long term, without losing the things that make so unique, like having musicians perform from intimate spaces in wineries, and maintaining the focus on the natural wonder that is Niagara.
“The community sees the value in the festival,” says Dunn, adding that running it is a labour of love. “It creates so many jobs in the local economy, not just for musicians, but in the wineries, restaurants and other local businesses. It’s not only great for Niagara-on-the-Lake, but also the whole of Ontario to have a jazz festival in the Niagara region.”
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