March 6, 2013
Harold Yellin is chairman of the Savannah Music Festival.
Yellin has served on the festival’s board of directors since 2007 and as its chairman since July. Yellin, 57, is a Savannah native who specializes in real estate law with the HunterMaclean law firm. He graduated from Beach High School, attended the University of North Carolina and earned an M.B.A. and J.D. from Emory Law School in Atlanta. He has served as president of Congregation Bnai Brith Jacob and the Savannah Jewish Federation, as well as on boards for organizations such as Union Mission and Silent Witness.
On joining the SMF board
At the risk of sounding corny, I really like organizations that make Savannah a better community. There was something infectious about the Savannah Music Festival. I love the vibe in downtown Savannah. The music festival is the largest music festival in Georgia. It’s 17 consecutive days, and there are more than 100 concerts with all kinds of genres of music. Once you start attending and once you start enjoying it, it’s hard not to be a part of it.
Ticket sales amount to 40 percent of SMF’s annual $3 million budget, with the remainder coming from everywhere.
We are very grateful because the city of Savannah is one of our donors. We have several large donors (including current and former festival board members), a very giving philanthropic group of people who believe in the music festival. And we receive donations from corporations and from grants. We’ve grown. It wasn’t that long ago — I think this organization was probably a $700,000 organization 10 years ago. It’s $3 million now. We’ve got some very dedicated donors who help us put on this world-class event, and we could not do it without them. But it’s also pretty impressive that we sell $1.2 million in tickets.”
Up to 36 percent of our audience is from out of town, so we have this enormous economic impact on the city. Music festival participants contributed 9,000-plus hotel-room nights during the 2012 season. Our activities generate nearly $1 million in local tax revenues per year, and hotel revenues were up 16 percent during the 2012 festival period compared to the same period in 2011. And we’re also starting a new partnership with the Downtown Business Association to promote local business patronage through a retailer program during the festival. So we are constantly looking for ways to improve our festival, but we’re also looking to foster economic growth for our community, which is good for us and good for business.”
There are a lot of components to this organization, and the component that everyone forgets about is our incredible education program. We bring 20,000 public school kids to concerts. We literally bring amazing musical educators to Savannah (for the Swing Central Jazz, Acoustic Music Seminar and Gulfstream Music Education Series programs). The music festival as an organization has a number of stated goals. Certainly, bringing world-class music to Savannah is one of them. But the idea of promoting music, making it available for the next generation, cultivating the next crop of great artists — that’s part of who we are, too.”
Growing up here, I don’t know that when I was younger that Savannah could have supported a music festival to this scale. There were numerous musical organizations, there were numerous concert events, but nothing on the scale and order that we have now. Being a tourism town, we’ve benefited. Certainly, SCAD has changed the way we do business in downtown Savannah. And I think that Savannah has evolved as a community. I think it’s a more sophisticated community, a more diverse community. There’s sort of a recognition that we have a lot of promise of being a center for performing arts.”
A big turning point was when Rob Gibson became the executive and artistic director of the festival (in 2002). He was (the founding director) of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. I think the music festival took a dramatic and positive step when Rob arrived in Savannah to head the organization. Credential-wise, he’s just incredible. And we’ve also got an outstanding staff. They go to great lengths to find talent to bring here to Savannah.”
The festival’s influence
It makes it a cooler community. It makes it a more exciting community, the kind of place that will make our children want to come back and live here again. It sort of adds to the festivity of Savannah.”
I’m going to get the patent, I’m going to get the T-shirt rights for this: I think the music festival is ‘The Best 17 Days in Savannah.’”
Music Festival Contact
Address: 216 E. Broughton St.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday
-Compiled by Tony Judnich
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