Kooyong Group helps keep the Festival of Jewish Arts and Music alive during COVID-19

17 November 2020

The Festival of Jewish Arts and Music (FOJAM), like most of the arts sector, felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic acutely.

Since launching in 2015, the festival has run biennially, promoting Jewish artists and celebrating the diversity and vitality of Jewish identity, culture and life. But in April, organisers announced the cancellation of their 2020 live event. The resulting loss of income left FOJAM in a sensitive financial position, according to CEO Jesse Lubitz.

When we had to cancel the festival, we lost all our ticketing income. We also lost a very significant level of corporate sponsorship.

Kooyong former CEO James Ostroburski has been a supporter of the festival since it began and is now a member of the board of directors. He sees the arts as a fundamental pillar of our society.

The development of society is based on our creativity as people. The arts teach us how to think and react, and to look at other opinions. They teach us to see and understand the world.

That ongoing commitment to the arts and to FOJAM meant that Lubitz and his team weren’t alone as they faced the initial financial challenges of the pandemic.

James has been very engaged financially and he’s always given us strategic advice. What has set him apart and has made him so valuable is the support he has extended to help us deliver successful fundraising events.

Emily Myer, Kooyong Group’s Philanthropic lead, is engaged by FOJAM as a consultant for two to four pro-bono hours each week. That exemplifies Kooyong Group’s approach to philanthropy – it’s about building capacity and supporting fundraising efforts, rather than simply writing a cheque.

We believe in the mission of the organisation and want to support the outstanding commitments of the FOJAM team to grow and find success beyond this challenging year.

When the pandemic hit, Myer joined Lubitz and Ostroburski to brainstorm new ways to fundraise. Along with Gary Samowitz (FOJAM’s chairman), they landed on a pandemic-proof idea that FOJAM had never tried – a phone-a-thon.

Half a dozen FOJAM staff, supported by Kooyong Group, set about creating datasets they could use to call people who had attended events in the past. They set aside a single day – September 11 – to make the calls with an aim of raising $20,000. Reaching the target would unlock a matching amount coming from Kooyong Group and other philanthropic donors.

On the day of the phone-a-thon, Lubitz and his team were joined remotely by Ostroburski, Myer, and four Kooyong Group staff who each worked the phones for three hours.

Lubitz says that Kooyong Group’s commitment to the collaboration, in preparation and on the day, was inspiring for his own staff.

The support that we got from Kooyong Group really put a spring in everybody’s step. To have that level of engagement from donors really felt like a seal of approval of what we’re trying to achieve. It was inspiring for us.

Though he was initially apprehensive about how the phone calls would be received, Lubitz soon realised the effort was turning into a resounding success.

“We weren’t sure what the response was going to be like from the community, having never done it before. But it was really smooth sailing. It felt like we were hitting our goals earlier than we hoped,” he recalls.

By day’s end, FOJAM had smashed all the initial targets and raised more than $77,000.

“The phone-a-thon went a long way to ensuring that we’ll be able to keep going and deliver the festival in 2021,” he says.

As well as that enormous one-day effort, Kooyong Group has helped FOJAM to bring more than 6,000 people to Zoom and Instagram Live events in 2020. Through a digital program that has included headline acts, smaller gigs, panel discussions and a regular conversation between two artists, FOJAM has been able to provide paid opportunities for artists who lost work due to COVID-19.

Myer says the time and effort she contributes is made all the more worthwhile because of the dedication of FOJAM’s team, and the organisation’s commitment to supporting artists.

I am truly impressed with the commitment and creativity that FOJAM have shown in transforming a live arts festival into a thought-provoking and entertaining online artistic program that continues to employ artists at this most challenging time.

Kooyong Group acknowledges the important role the arts industry plays in our society and is proud to be continuing to support FOJAM and the industry more broadly.