WRTI Receives Major Grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation In Support of Jazz
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) has announced that WRTI has been chosen to participate in the Jazz Media Lab, a newly launched public media collective comprising five dynamic and forward-thinking nonprofit jazz radio stations. Funded by DDCF grants, this cooperative venture intends to strengthen jazz radio’s engagement with artists and diverse audiences across the country as well as bolster local jazz ecosystems.
“As the largest national funder of jazz, we are dedicated to helping ensure the sustained vibrancy of jazz, one of the very few contemporary art forms original to the U.S.,” said Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at DDCF. “This program is a pivotal piece of that greater commitment.”
WRTI will receive a grant of up to $275,000, spread over three years, to provide general operating support and funds for innovation, and promote investment in the future of public jazz radio in Philadelphia. The station will be joined by KMHD in Portland, OR; KNKX in Tacoma/Seattle, WA; KUVO in Denver, CO, and WBGO in Newark, NJ. And among the project’s goals is fostering collaboration between public radio peers committed to furthering the legacy of jazz broadcasting.
"This commitment from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is affirmation that they are willing to partner and invest in the power of WRTI, and our public media peers, to pursue this ambitious vision for our work to rise to the level of the music." —Bill Johnson
Shepherding WRTI into the future is a responsibility Bill Johnson, WRTI’s general manager, takes seriously, especially given WRTI’s unique position among the region’s principal promoters and caretakers of jazz, a music of ever-expanding boundaries and conceptions.
“Jazz is a vibrant living art form,” said Johnson. “Everything we do in its name—how we curate and present music, how we partner in the community, how we support artists, how we engage audiences—must possess the same intensity, discipline, and creativity that define this music. This commitment from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is affirmation that they are willing to partner and invest in the power of WRTI, and our public media peers, to pursue this ambitious vision for our work to rise to the level of the music.”
Rising to the level of the music in 2021 invariably means working toward innovative new ways of presenting and connecting, and one of the principal purposes of the Jazz Media Lab is to help participating stations connect with the listeners and artists of tomorrow, today.
“The future of jazz on public media depends on creative solutions to serving our current audience while attracting new audiences,” Johnson said. “This grant allows us to take the risks necessary to explore and cultivate new partnerships. We must embrace the idea that those partners will not look like traditional media, nor should they.”
In the Media Lab’s second year, WRTI will be eligible to receive a supplemental grant of $50,000 for a project exploring the program’s themes of engaging next-generation artists and audiences and maximizing the use of new media platforms.
Though the details of what will surely be ambitious new initiatives have yet to be revealed, WRTI’s fundamental mission of being the best jazz messenger this side of Art Blakey will remain the same.
“We all want the same outcome,” said Josh Jackson, WRTI’s associate general manager for content. “More people sharing the feeling we get dipping into this deep well of music, spirit and history.”
Beyond monetary support, the DDCF will provide WRTI, and all members of the Jazz Media Lab, with potentially game-changing professional development and industry networking resources. With access to a team of industry experts, and to their peer-station participants, WRTI will be able to avail itself of learned counsel on everything from broadening its audience base and investing wisely in new platforms to more efficiently balancing its budget.
Simply put, membership in the Jazz Media Lab will benefit WRTI and its audience in both the short and long term.
“In the short run this grant allows WRTI to pursue some immediate projects that showcase our power to tell compelling stories and produce new content from some of our community’s most compelling jazz artists,” Johnson said. “In the long run, it allows us to engage in a sustained effort of improving, not just delivering, WRTI’s local service to our community.”
"Now is the time for WRTI to join our friends to address challenges, develop best practices, and create strategies to build a jazz media system that works for everyone." —Josh Jackson
The grant also allows WRTI to expand its community, in a sense. As a collective, one of the qualitative goals of Jazz Media Lab is to strengthen relationships between stations so that each participating member is left with a peer network and support system that will endure beyond DDCF funding.
“I’m excited to participate with our colleagues around the country,” Jackson said. “Now’s the time for WRTI to join our friends to address challenges, develop best practices, and create strategies to build a jazz media system that works for everyone.”
WRTI’s commitment to being a keeper of the jazz flame is clear. Growing that flame higher, stronger and more accessible entails some change. But jazz, rooted in history though it is, is a genre amenable to change because of guiding principles that champion a perpetual— and simultaneous— looking back and looking forward.
“There are guiding principles that inform us as cultural messengers,” said Jackson, affirming this notion. “One is that you reclaim the past to understand who you are and where you’re going. Trumpeter Clark Terry would say, ‘Imitate. Assimilate. Innovate.’ It’s a regenerative formula that has kept the music vibrant for more than a century. It’s time to show everyone more of that from our position as a public media service.”