Detroit Jazz Fest Loses Sponsor

Just as the Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival was booking talent for this year’s event, it lost the word “Ford” from its name. The loss of the major sponsor has put event organizers into yet another scramble.

Since 1995, Ford Motor Co. has provided a $250,000 title sponsorship for the annual event, and that was 21 percent of the proposed 2005 budget, according to the Detroit Free Press. The event organizer, Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, was planning on a budget of $1.2 million this year.

Music Hall president Sandy Duncan said a replacement for Ford will be needed within 30 days for the festival to continue.

Ford cited concerns about the Music Hall’s festival budget and its plans to expand the event from Hart Plaza into Campus Martius Park. Organizers plan to have genres other than jazz at this year’s festival in hopes of expanding the audience and continuing to operate in the black.

Ron Thomas, manager of corporate alliance for Ford, said the company asked for changes that weren’t made but would not be more specific.

Music Hall has reached out to General Motors Inc., which said it has no plans to underwrite the jazz fest for 2005. Organizers reportedly said they would also contact Chrysler, which already sponsors the popular Arts, Beats and Eats street fair in Pontiac.

Ford pulled out just weeks after Music Hall considered bumping the festival from Labor Day weekend to August 5-7 so it would not compete with Arts, Beats and Eats. According to the Free Press, the jazz fest is necessary to the city’s image, and its absence would be a “black eye” as Detroit prepares for the 2006 Super Bowl.

“It has become very much part of the fabric of our city,” former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer told the paper. “The jazz festival is to music in Detroit as the Red Wings, Tigers, Pistons and Lions are to pro sports. It’s something to cherish, and you don’t really know what you’d miss until you lose it.”

There are ways around the problem, the paper said, including making jazz fest a ticketed event. Duncan said Music Hall has every intention of keeping the 22-year-old event alive.