Checking in with MaCCNO

An out-of-focus black and white photo of a brass band with the MaCCNO logo overlaid it in white. Below the logo reads “The Music & Culture Coalition of New Orleans” in white.

Who We Are and What We Do

Later this year, we will celebrate our 12th anniversary as an organization. For over six years, we’ve been writing this column for ANTIGRAVITY. In these pages, we’ve covered the extractive nature of the tourism industry, highlighted current issues facing musicians and cultural workers, presented recovery plans, and given deserved spotlights to many members of the cultural community. Rarely, though, have we paused to tell our story or highlight our priorities and initiatives. This month, we wanted to take a moment to talk about who we are and the work we do for newer readers.

 As an organization, MaCCNO’s work sits at the intersection of culture, public policy, and social justice. We know that many of the laws, policies, and systems that impact cultural practices and lives of cultural practitioners were developed in the post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras to disenfranchise and disrupt the livelihoods and traditions of largely Black, Native, and immigrant populations. Some of those policies, like redlining—a discriminatory practice that denied home loans to individuals based on race or identity—though discontinued in their original form, continue to impact neighborhoods today. Other ordinances, like restrictions on the presence of musical instruments in businesses without a permit (passed in 1917 as part of the successful effort to dismantle Storyville) remain on the books, and still influence policy decisions. Other, more recent laws, like an ordinance passed in the 1980s that makes it illegal to play a musical instrument in the public right-of-way after 8 p.m., have already been deemed unconstitutional by multiple City attorneys. Yet they remain on the books and periodically lead to the harassment or arrest of New Orleans musicians. A large part of our mission is to undo these discriminatory and culturally destructive laws and systems to create a more equitable and just city.

We also know that, no matter how many policies we can change and laws we can rewrite, if people can’t afford to live here, none of that really matters. To address this, during the pandemic  we launched our own low-barrier grant program for cultural community members, which we later expanded to provide relief post Hurricane Ida as well. In total, we gave out close to 1,000 grants totaling nearly $350,000. But we’ve also seen that, once the initial wave of publicity ends post-disaster, so does the funding for relief, even though in a city with constantly rising costs of living like New Orleans, small, individualized disasters—a car breakdown, an unexpected medical bill, a stolen instrument—can kick off a cycle that can also have catastrophic financial impacts. To address this, we are working to develop an ongoing relief fund not tied to regional disasters, but rather focusing on immediate needs. Finally, we are scaling up our services as a fiscal agent—using our ability as a non-profit to access philanthropy and private donations to help provide smaller organizations and individuals access to funding and financial resources.

While we continue this large-scale work to strive to dismantle inequitable systems and build a stronger economic safety net, we also stay in sight of day-to-day needs. We’ve slowly been building our Advocacy Guides including the Basics of Community Engagement and an Intro to City Council; we provide support and legal assistance to street performers (including our next Know Your Rights presentation scheduled for mid-May); connect cultural community members with financial literacy information and support; and maintain ongoing cultural research projects, like Frenchmen Notes.

So, who are the people doing this work? In February 2024, we welcomed two new staff members, Kendra Thompson, our Director of Operations and Development, and Danovon Calhoun-Bettis, our new Director of Engagement and Partnerships, who took over for Renard Bridgewater, our longtime Engagement Director, after he transitioned out of the role last year. Staff also includes Executive Director Ethan Ellestad and Director of Programs and Research Hannah Kreiger-Benson. We also couldn’t continue this work without our highly engaged Board of Directors and myriad partner organizations and individuals. This work truly is, and has always been, a group effort.

Meet one of MaCCNO’s new staff members, Danovon Calhoun-Bettis, interviewed by Hannah Kreiger-Benson.

Can you give us a one-sentence bio to start things off?
I’m Danovon Calhoun-Bettis, but everyone calls me Bettis. I’m the Director of Engagement and Partnerships at MaCCNO, where I work to amplify the voices of local artists and foster cultural equity in New Orleans.

What’s your favorite local dish?
Gumbo paired with grilled cheese is my go-to. It’s a weekly favorite.

What other hats do you wear outside of MaCCNO?
Outside of MaCCNO, I’m deeply involved in New Orleans’ music scene. I perform with T-Ray the Violinist, The Andre Lovett Band, and Big Fun Brass Band. I also lead my own band, Bettis + 3rd Degree, known as “The Hot Boys of Frenchmen.”

How does your work as a musician influence your approach at MaCCNO?
As a musician, I’m connected to the heartbeat of our community, understanding the challenges and opportunities our artists face. This insight allows me to effectively advocate for their needs and aspirations.

Looking ahead, what are you most excited about in your role at MaCCNO?
I’m truly excited about expanding our community outreach. We’re planning to increase our interactive forums and workshops that not only educate but empower our local artists. From legal Know Your Rights workshops to financial management and literacy strategies, these initiatives are designed to equip our artists with the tools they need to thrive. This is an essential step towards nurturing a vibrant, sustainable arts community.

Please visit for more information about us, and thanks for reading every month!

This space is provided to MaCCNO as a community service and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or editorial policies of ANTIGRAVITY.

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