Newport Jazz and Folk Goes Nonprofit

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January 25, 2011; Source: Associated Press | NPQ has recently noted a number of conversions of for-profits to nonprofits. This conversion is a little different. The famed Newport jazz and folk festivals were originally nonprofit, became for-profit and are now reconverting. By the time musicians hit the stage this summer at one of the most celebrated music festivals in the country, a new nonprofit group, the Newport Festivals Foundation, will oversee the events.

George Wein, the founder of the events, said the change to nonprofit status means foundations and music lovers can now make tax-deductible contributions, just as they would to any other cultural or arts organization. “That is the way culture in America survives. Without that, there’d be a wasteland,” he told the AP.

The Newport Jazz Festival was the world’s first outdoor jazz festival in 1954, and included performances by Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie, among others. The Newport Folk Festival began 1959, that year featuring a little-known teenage singer-songwriter, Joan Baez. Six years later, Bob Dylan famously went electric on the festival’s stage.

Both festivals began as nonprofits, but Wein made them into for-profit ventures in 1962 after the board quit following a 1960 riot during the jazz festival that nearly ended both events.

In recent years the festival has had difficulty attracting sponsors amid the economic downturn. Other major music festivals are already nonprofit, including Tanglewood, the Monterey Jazz Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Wein, an avid jazz pianist at the age of 85, is not paid to run the festivals. He said he’d stick around two more years and see what happens after that. “I won’t be around forever,” he told the AP.—Aaron Lester