Atlanta Jazz Festival benefited from car rentals at Atlanta’s airport

By David Pendered

As crowds on Sunday depart the Atlanta Jazz Festival, they have some unlikely sponsors to thank for the free entertainment – travelers who have rented cars at Atlanta’s airport.

"Bopping at Birdland," the signature poster for the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Festival, was created by Romare Howard Bearden and used with permission of the Bearden Foundation. Credit: atlanta

“Bopping at Birdland,” the signature poster for the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Festival, was created by Romare Howard Bearden and used with permission of the Bearden Foundation. Credit: atlanta

Atlanta provided up to $100,000 to the festival from the city’s motor vehicle excise tax. Citing a decline steep decline in sponsorship due to the economy, the Atlanta City Council voted unanimously to approve the funding at its April 21 meeting.

The festival was established in 1978 by then Mayor Maynard Jackson. Today the event is produced by the Atlanta mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

The legislative paper that provides the funding states that the executive director of the Office of Cultural affairs “desires” that funds from the motor vehicle excise tax be used to support the Jazz Festival. Atlanta Councilmember C.T. Martin sponsored the legislation.

Mayor Kasim Reed now has direct control over the Office of Cultural Affairs. Jackson created the office in 1974 and last year it was moved from the city’s parks department into the mayor’s office, along with its control over popular programs including the Chastain Arts Center and Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum.

The Jazz Festival funding legislation noted that state law provides for the excise tax to be spent on purposes that include the promotion of “trade, commerce and tourism in the city.”

According to the paper:

  • “Whereas, the Jazz Festival is held throughout the month of May, and includes approximately 100 free events and approximately five events for which an admission price is charged. Jazz Festival events annually attracts over 300,000 visitors to the City; and
  • “Whereas, the City pays for the Jazz Festival from sponsors, vendors, and from revenues generated by the Jazz Festival concerts that charge an admission price; and
  • “Whereas, due to a downturn in the economy, the amount of revenue generated from sponsorship had decreased significantly….”

Sponsorship prices begin at $3,000 and rise to $100,000, according to the festival’s rate sheet.

In keeping with the times, the festival offered a jumbotron Twitter wall. It provided a branding opportunity and was priced at $5,000.

This year’s Jazz Festival sponsors include: Bank of America, Publix and Publix Charities, Coca-Cola, W Atlanta-Midtown, MARTA, XFINITY, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, Georgia Lottery, FORD and Duty Free Americas, according

Another sponsor is the non-profit Atlanta Jazz Festival, Inc. The non-profit entity is registered with the Internal Revenue Service, but its revenue, expenses, 990 tax forms and other financial information is not available, according to GuideStar’s website says it tracks non-profits in order to provide more transparency that be may of use to charitable donors.

This is the history of the Atlanta Jazz Festival, according to the rate sheet:

  • “Atlanta Jazz Festival was established by Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson in 1978. The city’s commitment was to present a free jazz festival – straight ahead, avant garde, improvisational, harmonically and rhythmically complex and beautiful. It would showcase the best performers of “pure” jazz, eschewing the genre blends.
  • “37 years later, Atlanta Jazz Festival has stayed true to that mission. As the genre has birthed many other forms, jazz still lives on and continues to evolve in its truest form. Atlanta Jazz Festival is one of the few places in the country where masses of music enthusiasts, families and culture lovers gather year after year to hear and experience this great American musical tradition.”

The sheet quoted Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed as saying: “The Atlanta Jazz Festival is our homage to the legacy and tradition of a true American art form.”


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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