Delaware Water Gap's jazz fest struggles to stay solvent without sponsorships

Courtesy Pocono Record
By Michael Sadowski Pocono Record Writer May 12, 2010 12:00 AM

Everything with a name is for sale these days.

But for years, one thing that decidedly wasn't on the market was the Celebration of the Arts (COTA) jazz festival in Delaware Water Gap every September.

Festival organizers are facing a dilemma for this year's festival and for the future as they continue to turn down the offers of corporate sponsorship and keep the event a Poconos original.

"That's the way it was intended when it started," said Lauren Chamberlain, president of the COTA board of directors. "And that's the way we want to keep it. It's always been local and independent."

Rising costs and bad weather have put COTA in financial dire straits, and now the organizers are starting to whisper: Should we start taking sponsorship money?
The answer, so far, has been a resounding "No," and the festival is looking for other ways to defray the cost of the yearly event that brings thousands into the Delaware Water Gap.
Held over two days on the second weekend in September, rainy and dreary conditions all but wiped out COTA in 2008 and 2009.


It was still held each year, but attendance — where COTA makes its money to pay for next year's festival — was way down, especially in 2008.

"It absolutely poured," Chamberlain said. "We had to have the whole thing under the tent, which gave it a different feel and made it more intimate. "But where we get more than 3,000 people on Saturday, we were lucky if we had 500 people under the tent. And most of those were our volunteers who don't pay for admission."

There had been a reserve fund to pay for the festival if the weather didn't cooperate for a year, but when rain and low temperatures hurt festival attendance again in 2009, the organizers started to worry about how they would raise about $60,000 to pay for the 2010 festival.

One way is Friday's COTA Spring Fling Celebration art auction at the Willowtree Inn on Ann Street in Stroudsburg starting at 6 p.m.


Another method not on the table — not yet — is corporate sponsorship dollars. Chamberlain, whose father Rick was one of the founders of the festival, said she gets at least one call a year from businesses offering to sponsor the COTA, offering anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000.

"Last year, it was a time-share company that just wanted to set up a booth," she said. "But we don't want people soliciting our customers, and that's one of the things a sponsor asks for.
"If this keeps up, some day we're going to have to ask ourselves the question: Do we want to get corporate sponsorship, or do we want to stop the festival?"

Tim Helman, who has worked at the festival for 30 years, said Friday's fundraiser is a start to keeping it an all-local, all-volunteer event, and COTA organizers will continue to do whatever they can to keep it a local endeavor.

"We will not let it go corporate," said Helman, COTA's local artisan coordinator and a member of the board of the directors. "Once you have a corporate sponsor, they take over. We have certain standards we want to uphold ourselves."

For more information on the fundraiser or COTA, visit

What: Celebration of the Arts Spring Fling Celebration
Where: Willowtree Inn, 601 Ann St., Stroudsburg
When: Doors open 6 p.m. Friday, live auction starts at 8 p.m.
Auction: More than a dozen local artists have donated more than 25 pieces to the auction, and local businesses also have donated items.
Tickets: $30, available at or at the Willowtree Inn. Includes hors d'oeuvres and music. All proceeds go to the planning and operations of the yearly COTA Festival in Delaware Water Gap in September.
Live performances: Local jazz artists Bill Goodwin, Nancy and Spencer Reed, Jesse Green and others will supply the music.