Finally, some good news. In mid-January it was reported that—because of the forthcoming merger between New Orleans & Company and the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation (NOTMC) (as a part of Mayor Cantrell’s “Fair Share” deal)—$3.9 million of NOTMC’s remaining assets would be repurposed into a “New Orleans Tourism and Culture Fund.” Current plans, as detailed in a 4-page policy paper entitled “Vision For Investment in the Cultural Economy and Culture-Bearers of the City of New Orleans,” call for the fund to be overseen by a seven-member board, which would include two city councilmembers and five culture-bearers or “individuals with expertise in the cultural-economy,” with the purpose of providing “support for the cultural economy and culture-bearers of the City of New Orleans.” We’ve been calling for the redistribution of a portion of tourism tax revenue away from tourism entities and into the cultural community for some time now. This is a good step forward, and we are optimistic about the possibilities.
Of course, while optimistic, we are also realistic—we know there are still many unanswered questions and plenty of details to be worked out. It’s too early to know who will be sitting on the board (though it’s a good bet that at least one of the two councilmembers will be Kristen Palmer or Jay Banks), how funds will be distributed, or exactly who will be eligible. It’s even somewhat unclear if there are additional funds expected, or if this is a one-time transfer. We’d also suggest that, if the city is going to use the fund to directly support “culture-bearers,” the term needs some sort of definition. When we use the term at MaCCNO, we generally add “traditional” and define a “traditional culture-bearer” as a long-term participant in New Orleans’ indigenous African American/Black cultural traditions. The city is free to use that definition, or can work with the cultural community to come up with their own—but there must some parameters, and they need to be publically available.
This $3.9 million investment in New Orleans’ cultural economy and community is badly needed and long called for, and we sincerely hope this is the first of many. For the time being, though, this is what we have to work with and, for the amount of resources needed, isn’t a terribly large amount—so we need to be intentional to ensure it creates the largest impact possible. (For the sake of comparison, $3.9 million is only 5% of the $79 million being spent to create a pedestrian mall for tourists in front of the Convention Center.)
Here are some ideas about how we could best invest the funds:
An infrastructure grant/no interest loan program for small cultural businesses
A leaky roof, failed HVAC, or other structural problems common in older buildings could be an almost insurmountable cost for many businesses that have extremely slim profit margins. Neighborhood music venues, restaurants, bars, and museums are what keep our culture vital, and they deserve more direct support.
A soundproofing grant program
Residual sound from businesses, particularly music venues, is a common point of contention, and soundproofing is a requirement in the zoning ordinance for live entertainment venues. However, good soundproofing can be cost-prohibitive, so why not establish a grant program, similar to a façade grant program, to solve the issue? It could also cover sound-dampening landscaping for outdoor venues and, as a bonus, we could partner these grants with additional funding for eco-friendly/energy-efficient remodeling.
An emergency fund for musicians, artists, and traditional culture-bearers
A high cost of living and low pay are a reality for many New Orleanians, but are a particularly acute problem in the cultural community. We should establish an emergency fund for instances where a little extra help would go a long way—for example, when late rent payments could force eviction, unexpected car repairs make gigging difficult, or when instruments and other equipment are damaged (including in natural/manmade disasters, i.e. flooding) or stolen.
Fully subsidizing fees for traditional second lines
The tourism industry has fully appropriated second lines, relentlessly marketing “second line parades” to tourist groups large and small, helping earn these corporations millions of dollars. To give back, the least the city could do is use some of this money to subsidize the fees for the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs that keep the real tradition alive and vital.
Purchase lots to create permanently affordable housing for the cultural community
The affordable housing crisis and resulting displacement of residents and families, particularly from the traditionally working class Black neighborhoods that are the cradle of New Orleans’ culture, continues to worsen. This funding could be used to purchase lots in these neighborhoods and create a land bank to facilitate the construction of permanently affordable housing units specifically available to musicians and traditional culture-bearers.
A traffic study and street/sidewalk improvements on Frenchmen Street
There are a number of ideas about how to make Frenchmen Street safer, more enjoyable, and more profitable for businesses, workers, and musicians. This could fund a traffic study to examine the effects of re-routing taxis and rideshare vehicles, establishing drop-off zones, and closing the street to traffic at certain times. It could also fund sidewalk and streetscape improvements, creating more space for patrons and pedestrians, as well as finally implementing real loading zones for musicians, and perhaps even a dedicated parking lot for musicians and service industry workers.
Subsidize the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic
The Musicians’ Clinic is a literal lifesaver for the cultural community. If the city wants to help musicians and culture-bearers, you can’t get any more direct than this.
Hire a cultural planner for the City Planning Commission
The city of New Orleans has no actual cultural policy, so decisions involving sound, permitting, zoning for live music, etc. are made by individuals or departments that are not in contact with one another, and generally do not understand the culture of the city or the impact their decisions may have. The role of the cultural planner would not be to “plan the culture,” but rather to ensure a uniform, culturally sensitive—and inclusive—approach to these processes, and to work directly with the cultural community to revise existing laws and systems to be more supportive of the city’s culture and cultural creators.
At this point, we don’t know enough about how this fund is going to be administered to know if any of these ideas or programs would qualify—and fully implementing all of them would certainly take far more money than is currently being proposed. Even so, we wanted to use them to start a discussion about what smart, sustainable investment in New Orleans culture could actually look like. Do you have any ideas? We’d love to hear them. Send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org, via Facebook at facebook.com/maccnopage, or Twitter and Instagram: @musicculture504.
Outdoor Live Entertainment Study To Begin
On January 16 the City Council unanimously approved a motion introduced by Councilmembers Banks and Palmer that instructs the City Planning Commission to conduct a study that will ultimately suggest new regulations on outdoor live entertainment for businesses in New Orleans. This is a good step forward, as it should eliminate the Department of Safety and Permits’ current clandestine ban on outdoor live entertainment for new businesses. However, to make sure any suggested regulations reflect the true culture of the city, it is crucial there is full participation from musicians, small business owners, traditional culture-bearers, and neighbors. A public input session will be held before the end of March, and the study will be released sometime in the Fall. Keep following us for more updates.
This page is provided to MaCCNO as a community service and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or editorial policies of ANTIGRAVITY