Arts & Business Means Jazz in Indiana, PA. Really?

Thursday, 08 May 2014 11:14 AM Written by  Rebecca Slak, Indiana Arts Council


Poogie Bell

How do businesses work with the arts to attract cultural tourists and outside dollars? It’s a critical economic development question that has many answers.  Pittsburgh and Austin are cities that have attracted outside dollars to the benefit of its citizenry, but let’s get smaller, into smalltown America and a music festival in Indiana, PA, Jimmy Stewart’s hometown and birthplace of Renée Fleming. (No kidding.)

Let’s also work with a couple of basic assumptions. First, that arts non-profit organizations exist for the good of the community. That’s why we’re non-profit. If our sector earns more than a break even situation each year, that’s a plus. Let’s also assume that for-profit businesses exist to make that profit for the owners and investors. If they create additional good for the community, that’s a plus.  

The large, middle ground is where arts non-profits and for-profit businesses create opportunities that benefit their communities and frankly, create fun. Cultural tourism – which makes a tangible impact on local communities - is one of those opportunities.

Cultural tourism, people traveling to a destination to experience art, is probably as old as the cave paintings at Lascaux. It all starts with someone’s good idea for a good time. Who’s to blame for thinking that little old Indiana, PA could pull off a world class yet homey Jazz & Blues Festival, coming up later this month?  Local jazz do-gooders, Dad Band, and a small grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts got the ball rolling.

Getting more support meant convincing various folks that the event is really gonna fly. Core to our approach was embracing our ‘small town-ness’, also knowing that our town is planted in the midst of a potent region burgeoning with action and creativity and sustained with deep roots. Minnesotans make arts festivals on frozen lakes in winter? Then Indiana, PA can have jazz ringing off the foothills of our Appalachian town on May 24.

We positioned this idea to get further support from tourist bureaus, individuals, and a range of businesses from store-front family sized to multi-state corporate operations - all pitching in. And they do pitch in - look at Dollar Bank (Three Rivers Arts Festival and Three Rivers Film Festival) or Highmark (First Night) or Alloy Oxygen, sponsor of this weekend’s Pyrotopia - all great examples of business investment in regional festivals and how that  helps attract audiences and dollars spent on non-arts needs such as parking, hotels, food, and merchandise. In Allegheny County alone, 4 out of 5 jobs generated by arts and culture are in other industries.

We used these examples to extend opportunities to main street restaurants adjacent to the Westylvania Jazz & Blues Festival, positioning the arts as a positive business partner. At this point, seven locally owned and operated restaurants along with another six local businesses ranging from clothing resale to an orthodontic practice are supporting the festival.The Lively Arts at IUPcame on board with substantial support, and regional arts powerhouses like Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and Pittsburgh JazzLive International, a program of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, embrace our idea.

These partnerships leveraged major support. Last week, Delaney Chevrolet, a family- owned business bolstered the festival with meaningful, multi-year support at the naming rights level. This $15,000 commitment spread over three years represents tremendous and important support for a small town festival just starting out. It also means that we can attract international sensations such as the Poogie Bell Band and Sean Jones and Sonny Landreth.

By partnering at this level, the arts community will put our town & businesses on stage as much as we will the remarkable jazz and blues performers. We are promoting the arts by creating bottom line opportunities for business owners that also align with their values- in this case that music in the streets is a good thing.

The outcome of all this is that on Saturday, May 24th, Indiana, PA will host the Delaney Chevrolet Westsylvania Jazz & Blues Festival, a free, outdoor festival.  And there will be Great American Music in a Great American Town. See you, there!

The Westylvania Jazz and Blues Festival is part of the Indiana Arts Council. Learn more about the Council, here.


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