Courtesy of Ben Ortiz

A screenshot from the fundraising 'dj-thon' pictured above.

May 5, 2020

Ithaca DJs Livestream Music to Fundraise for Local Organizations

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With social distancing and stay-at-home-orders in place, DJs are now seeking ways to bring people together. Through “Social Persistencing,” a streaming series, Ithaca DJs want people to turn their kitchens into dancefloors.

Shortly after postponing the Ithaca DJ Festival, Ben Ortiz  – assistant curator of Cornell Hip Hop, founder and director of the festival and “DJ ha-MEEN” to his audience – turned to online streaming to host a fundraising “DJ-thon,” featuring the talent of local DJs.

“It’s my life long passion and love,” Ortiz said about his involvement in hip-hop. Taking his passion for hip hop and being a DJ himself, Ortiz founded the Ithaca DJ Festival three years ago.

Originally scheduled for March 28, organizers postponed the festival the week before Halloween. However, still wanting to host something close to the festival’s original date, Ortiz and other local DJs contemplated moving the annual 13-hour festival online.

“It seemed like a hollow kind of way to take that event – a joyous annual event – and turn it into a thing where people are just looking on their phones, flipping through messages as they half pay attention to us,” Ortiz said.

When organizing the event, Ortiz initially found it difficult to get in contact with people to organize the ‘DJ-thon’.

“Every DJ on the planet is suddenly out of a job,” Ortiz said “However, the difference would be that a lot of DJs have started streaming themselves online, just kind of providing music for people.”

Ortiz found that streaming through Twitch was the most accessible and user-friendly platform for the DJs to use copyrighted music, who don’t have the industry ties to weather the restrictions imposed by platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

“It looks like that’s going to evolve into one of the preferred platforms for DJs going forward,” Ortiz said. “We don’t know when we will all be able to play for an audience again. From the local bar or nightclub to birthday parties and weddings and concerts and all of that is canceled so every single DJ has their view on how they can best stream online.”

Instead, Ortiz transformed the festival into a “DJ-thon,” inspired by use of telethons popular in the early 2000s to fundraise for local organizations impacted by the pandemic. Ortiz already came into the “DJ-thon” with some fundraising experience, as he helped fundraise for Hurricane Maria relief in Downtown Ithaca.

“As a DJ, I’ve been embedded in this community here for so long doing that and working with other DJs building relationships, organizing many different events over the years together with them – nothing on the scale of this though,” Ortiz said, referring to the festival.

The “DJ-thon” occurs twice a week, with a new entertainer every Wednesday and Sunday, from 6 p.m. to midnight. Featuring three DJs per session, the “DJ-thon” fundraises for different organizations each week including the Food Bank of the Southern Tier and United Way of Tompkins County.

Going into its fifth week, Ortiz aims to fundraise at least $500 the week and donate the funds to the Food Bank of Central New York in the Syracuse region.

“It seems like an attainable number for just a week,” Ortiz said. “I’m happy to say that for four weeks straight we have broken our record and exceeded our fundraising goal every single week.”

During the fourth week of the “DJ-thon,” the organization raised $1,098 for Loaves and Fishes of Tompkins County — more than double its goal of $500.

In the past four weeks, over 1700 people have watched the stream and over 100 people have donated, ranging from $5 to as much as $200, according to Ortiz.

Social Persistencing’s logo includes a flexing bicep in the middle of a red painted heart to convey “love and strength” and a sense of “strong community.” Even with the name Social Persistencing, Ortiz wanted to inspire hope within the local community and beyond Ithaca.

“It’s meant to sound hopeful,” Ortiz said. “Despite this hardship, we persist. We continue on. We’re going to continue being the good people that we are. We’re going to continue supporting one another in the ways we always have.”