Take Five with Crystal Curran and The Northampton Jazz Festival

Before Crystal Curran came to UMass, she managed her high school’s music department and robotics team social media accounts. Now a music education major at UMass, she and several other friends manage the Instagram account @band_geeks_here for fun. The videos, photos, and contests about marching bands on the account have earned it over 30,000 followers.

Several months ago, Crystal landed a marketing internship with The Northampton Jazz Festival. She first learned about the organization at a prior Arts Extension Service Arts and Humanities Internship Fair. Crystal says, “The thing that caught my eye about this particular organization was that it combined two of my interests — arts marketing and jazz music — in a way that was very applicable to my major and intended field of work upon graduation.”

Expandable Brass Band, 2019 Northampton Jazz Festival, photo: Julian Parker-Burns

The Northampton Jazz Festival brings live jazz to a variety of venues in Northampton, Mass. in October. The festival enlivens Northampton’s downtown, from Progression Brewery to Pulaski Park, with performances by professional jazz musicians from around the globe, creating opportunities for small businesses, event venues, and jazz lovers.

“It is one thing to run a social media account, and a completely different thing to market a jazz festival through these platforms.”

Crystal has a wide range of interests — she is a major for classical voice with a psychology minor and she is studying towards a social work certificate as well as an Arts Management Certificate from the Arts Extension Service. In her musical pursuits, she studies classical voice, jazz improvisation and jazz voice, and plays flute, saxophone, percussion, and trombone in numerous ensembles. Interning for the Northampton Jazz Festival is a perfect fit for Crystal’s educational interests and professional goals.

Endea Owens and the Cookout at the Unitarian Society, Northampton Jazz Festival 2019, photo: Julian Parker-Burns

“I am looking forward to learning more about how the organization functions as a whole. It is one thing to run a social media account and a completely different thing to market a jazz festival through these platforms,” says Crystal.

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As Crystal continues her internship through the summer, arts organizations are facing many hurdles during this time. Those organizations that present live performance and work to unite communities are pivoting, strategizing, and reconfiguring their programming to be held online, modifying their messaging to donors, and considering alternative plans if social distancing requirements continue for months to come.

While planning in an era of COVID-19, Ruth Griggs, President of the Northampton Jazz Festival says, “Right now I am listening and taking a pulse of the community.”

“What I have found is that our downtown collaborators really want to lend their suggestions about and support for the festival. People have been forthcoming as they want to have hope. We are being hopeful but cautious and realistic and looking at Plan B,” she adds.

Ruth Griggs on stage at the Academy of Music, 2019 Northampton Jazz Festival, photo: Julian Parker-Burns

Incredibly accomplished in the field of marketing and communications, Ruth is also the Principal of RC Communications, a strategic marketing and communications business, Vice President of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce, and she is a member of Valley Jazz Voices, a local jazz ensemble. Ruth works with Crystal on developing online content for the Northampton Jazz Festival. Although the internship was initially going to be only partially onsite, they now work remotely and hold all of their communication via Zoom and email.

“I do like interacting in person, but being virtual is not bothering us at all. It is the norm,” explains Ruth, who has assigned initial tasks to Crystal such as researching musicians, writing bios, and creating social media posts.

"I do like interacting in person, but being virtual is not bothering us at all. It is the norm."

“I think online internships are more accessible as you could hypothetically work for an organization in Seattle while living in Houston, but once again you miss out on invaluable in-the-field experience you would not get otherwise,” says Crystal as her junior year comes to a close.

Springfield Sci Tech Band at Pulaski Park, 2019 Northampton Jazz Festival, photo: Julian Parker-Burns

A part of the organization's mission is to support younger up-and-coming artists. The online bio’s that Crystal writes tell the story of the festival through these up-and-coming musicians' lives and experiences, and they further support jazz musicians through increasing their digital footprint and promoting their work.

As the internship continues through the summer, Crystal will use her skills she’s developed on her own social media account to build the organization’s Instagram account, while Ruth teaches Crystal about other digital marketing platforms for the Northampton Jazz Festival.

“We are sharing best practices on social media. It’s so good to hear her perspective. And she’s learning about Facebook advertising. It’s a great collaboration with Crystal,” exclaims Ruth.

Kurt Elling Quintet at the Academy of Music, 2019 Northampton Jazz Festival, photo: Julian Parker-Burns

This year’s festival is scheduled for October 2 and 3 with the Art Blakey Centennial Celebration headlining at the Academy of Music. Over the summer, whether in-person or through remote communication, Crystal is excited to continue her work with the Northampton Jazz Festival and find further mentorship with their marketing team and board as they approach the festival in fall.

Ruth says, “She is a great communicator, writer, and incredibly well-spoken for her generation and her years.”

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