Panza Foundation’s Annual Fundraiser Helps Take Local Bands to the Next Level

Panza Foundation Board Members (left to right) John Panza, Lauren Clune and Edward Sotelo at the nonprofit’s 2017 annual fundraiser held at The Happy Dog.

Fri 11/30 @ 8PM

Even at the local level, the music industry can be a cutthroat experience. However, the question that John Panza began asking a few years ago was whether the Darwinian affair was creatively stifling and negatively affecting Northeast Ohio talent.

This led to the creation of the Panza Foundation, which provides monetary grants to support local, independent musicians, bands and musical endeavors. The nonprofit foundation assists musical acts at various stages of the creative process, allowing those artists the freedom to pursue their craft with the best tools and opportunities possible.

How it works is a handful of bands are selected annually. Since its inception in 2015, 15 groups have collectively received more than $23,000.

Up next for the Panza Foundation is its annual fundraiser and benefit taking place Fri 11/30 at The Happy Dog. Not only will Class of 2018 bands Uno Lady, the Village Bicycle, FreshProduce and Pillärs perform, but attendees can partake in a raffle. Also, the Panza Foundation will announce its 2019 bands.

CoolCleveland talked to Panza about his unique nonprofit and its impact on the Northeast Ohio music scene.

CoolCleveland: Let’s start off talking about the upcoming benefit.

John Panza: We use this day to host a concert for the bands we’ve sponsored in 2018. We also do a raffle that serves as a fundraiser with 100 percent of what we raise going to the bands we sponsor. We have a really good turnout. This year should be particularly fun with a lot of raffle items — recording time, mixing time, musical gear and what amounts to essentially an entire record collection, which was donated. We also have stuff from several yoga studios in town. We try to hit a broad spectrum of people, not just musicians.

CC: Since its inception, has the Panza Foundation operated as planned?

JP: It’s exactly like we planned. We settled on four bands early on mostly because we don’t want to overspend our budget every year. That way we can give each of the bands more money. So we’ve stuck to our guns for four years and going into our fifth year we’re staying pretty much the same. I guess you could say from the very beginning our goal was just simply pick who we felt were bands around town that were touring and trying to take them really to the next level. We just wanted to make sure we were there for them.

CC: The Panza Foundation is such a unique concept. What’s the response been from local bands?

JP: Early on we had to kind of convince bands that we were for real. It’s gotten easier now because I think our name it out there and people understand what we do, but what we’re doing is pretty unique. Every music scene has what we’ll call silent benefactors who support bands and things like that. We’re doing something a little bit unusual by making it a nonprofit and actually raising money to give to them. We haven’t found [another similar operation] around the country for what we do. Also, we stand out because we don’t have an application process. We operate like a record label in that sense. We always say to the bands, “We find you.” When we approach bands now, generally speaking, they’re pretty knowledgeable about what we are, although they always have like 50 questions.

CC: Looking ahead, what’s in store for the Panza Foundation?

JP: Financially, we’re hitting our mark every single year. In fact, we’ve increased the amount of money we give out to the bands by almost 20 percent every year since we started. So we’ve had no problem raising money, no problem generating interest. The only expansion for 2019 is we’re talking about doing a concert series with the bands that we’ve sponsored over the years. As of next year, we’ll have 19 bands, of which 16 are still active. This is still kind of in the early stages, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be pulling out the stops in our fifth year. I have some ideas. I think we’ll do a larger ask from some larger organizations for funds, which we haven’t done before. We’ve done it all ourselves up to this point. It doesn’t hurt to borrow other people’s money.

CC: Finally, is it safe to say helping a band hit the jackpot and become a regional touring band that perhaps flirts with mainstream attention would be a dream come true; however, that’s not the Panza Foundation’s measuring stick of success.

JP: That would be great, but for us, the measure of success for the bands we sponsor is, do they keep playing, do they still enjoy it and are they still able to get out there? Of course, we encourage our bands to tour. We think that’s enormously important for their development, but also the development of the Cleveland music scene. The more bands travel a bit and learn what it’s like to play in other cities they come back bringing that knowledge with them. That helps other bands. We’re very much interested in mid-career bands, where they’ve been doing it for four or five years, and are doing their own thing. That’s when we kind of step in. So yeah, I think in the future we’re just going to keep doing exactly what we do and keep hoping we can help these bands out, help them progress.

[Written by John Benson]


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