Montclair Jazz Festival
Saturday, Aug. 12
By GWEN OREL
It’s a day to chill out.
Listen to cool jazz.
Groove to hot riffs.
Write your congressperson.
Write your congressperson?
The Montclair Jazz Festival is making it easy, including that last part.
On Saturday, Aug. 12, along with two stages of music, plus food and merchandise vendors, the festival will have a tent supporting the National Endowment for the Arts.
In the tent will be petitions, pre-written letters and blank postcards to send to politicians about keeping the organization strong, as well as information about the NEA.
You can also enter the #savethenea art competition — doodle or draw something demonstrating “the beauty the arts add to our world.” According to Jazz House Kids, entries will be posted on Instagram and Twitter and shown on the festival Jumbotron. Art that gets the most likes will win prizes, and prints of the top-voted pieces will be sent to representatives in Washington.
Earlier this year, arts organizations including the Montclair Art Museum, Jazz House Kids and others, had planned a June march on Bloomfield Avenue, called “Frontline for the Arts.” But the FY2017 budget did allocate some funds to the NEA, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities. The FY2018 budget vote, which originally zeroed out the NEA, has been postponed until September.
After the funding was restored, “we were afraid people wouldn’t understand why we were marching,” said MAM Director Lora Urbanelli. The festival will draw more than 8,000 arts-oriented fans and it might be helpful to “give them an overview of what’s going on, and why the NEA is important,” Urbanelli said. “We couldn’t have done the Matisse show without the NEA. It was an enormous exhibition for a mid-size museum like ours. The NEA made it possible.”
“Matisse and American Art” and two related exhibitions ran at MAM from February to June.
Melissa Walker, president and founder of Jazz House Kids, which puts on the jazz festival, said the NEA’s “support is really vital to a lot of cultural activity, which in turn builds our community, and is also a facilitator to drive economic prosperity in the business community as well.”
The jazz festival is a better platform than even a march would have been, she said.
The festival is free. Buttons promoting the event say “No Tickets Required.”
“Everybody can come,” said Susan Korones Gifford, a Jazz House Kids board member. Gifford and her husband, Chris, who plays trumpet in JHK’s Adult Jazz Ensemble Program, were early supporters of the march. Chris came up with the name “Frontline for the Arts.” “You don’t have to buy a ticket. You don’t pay a thing. You can come with a blanket and sit on the ground all day and listen to incredible music,” Susan Gifford said.
Without the NEA grant, free admission might not be possible, Gifford said. And if people had to buy a ticket, that would change the festival entirely.
Gifford, who is from Memphis, Tennessee, said, “The arts have meant a lot to me in my life. It’s not just enjoying myself, but learning about other cultures, other people, finding emotional balm or whatever it is I need.
“The idea that it might not be accessible to some people is not OK with me.”
BUT CAN WE AFFORD IT?
It’s true that the NEA is supported by taxes.
Its budget, at $148 million, is a small fraction of the country’s budget overall. Supporting it costs every American about 46 cents per year, Walker said.
“When Americans are told about this, they overwhelmingly want to support this,” she said. “Not only do they want to save
the NEA, they want to see the budget go beyond where it was, and see an increase.” Jazz House Kids and other arts groups are asking for an increase to the budget of $5 million.
Urbanelli said that while the arts do have patrons, their support is not enough. “The arts are expensive. It’s an employment industry, like the food industry. Arts are a part of culture. People pay taxes for a lot of things they may or may not use.” Without the NEA, communities would be bereft of the arts.
For example, she said, she pays taxes that go to subsidies for coal miners. Urbanelli doesn’t use coal, and believes in clean energy.
“During the WPA, people thought it was crazy to fund murals in public places,” Urbanelli said, referring to the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal program that put people to work, including artists.
Now people are proud of those murals, she said.
“Why do we have a poet at the inauguration, or have people sing at ball parks? It’s part of human expression.
“The arts are essential in our culture. People don’t understand how much the arts are infiltrated in our lives. they take it for granted. That can be good.
“The arts are part of everyday life. They are part of what makes us human.”