Ten months into the pandemic, we haven’t seen a recovery plan for New Orleans’ cultural community. So we started writing one ourselves.
New Orleans’ cultural community is facing an ongoing crisis, and the longer it lasts, the greater the risk of irreversible damage. We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the March 16th shutdown, and up until now we haven’t seen any coordinated recovery plan for New Orleans’ cultural businesses, cultural traditions, or cultural communities. In an effort to spur much-needed action, we’ve listed some ideas for short, medium, and long-term actions that could be undertaken to create a sustainable, long-term recovery. Some items are fairly simple, some complex. Some are nearly free, others would cost millions. All are possible.
Before you start reading, two notes: 1) We didn’t include any programs or initiatives that already exist, like the Save Our Stages funding or the ongoing eviction moratorium. 2) Equity needs to be at the forefront of all recovery efforts. Many of the systems that impact the lives and livelihoods of the cultural community—the tourism industry, land use regulations, etc.—were originally designed to put BIPOC communities, and Black communities in particular, at a disadvantage, a legacy that continues to create and maintain disparities today. Recovery efforts must consciously work to reform inequitable systems, not replicate them.
Short Term Initiatives (1-6 months)
Cultural Census with Connection to Services
Led and coordinated by existing cultural support organizations, undertake a full census of the cultural community (inclusive of, but not limited to: musicians, visual artists, traditional culture bearers, and street performers), and connect those in need to existing aid programs, grants, and services.
Simplify Permitting Processes, Eliminate Fees, and Extend Tax Moratoriums
Prioritize safety and contact tracing, not revenue collection. Temporarily reduce lengthy permit requirements for outdoor events with a simple, one-page online or paper registration. Eliminate permitting fees for at least six months and extend tax and licensing fee moratoriums for the same amount of time.
Single Point of Contact in Government for Cultural Issues
City government should have one person or department that is leading cultural policy, support, and development. This person/department should understand the nuances of New Orleans culture, be trusted in the community, and be able to coordinate with all other city agencies as needed.
Activate Outdoor Spaces
Utilize existing city-owned parks and vacant land to set up temporary outdoor event spaces. Allow shuttered bars and venues to set up performances and food/drink sales in these spaces free of charge on a rotating basis. Similarly, set up periodic outdoor performances in existing business corridors like Frenchmen Street and Freret Street.
Performance Subsidy from Cultural Fund
Using the new Tourism and Cultural Fund, greatly expand the City’s Embrace the Culture series to pay performers in newly-activated and existing public spaces, and work with musicians to develop a fair and equitable pay scale. (The City maintains that the Tourism and Cultural Fund cannot legally be used for direct grants to individuals, so this would create another pathway for financial assistance).
Medium Term Initiatives (6-12 months)
Ongoing Emergency Fund
Either through the City or an existing cultural support organization, create an ongoing, low-barrier, emergency fund for members of the cultural community facing an urgent crisis (such as eviction, medical emergency, stolen property, etc). This fund should exist in perpetuity.
Targeted Zoning and Policy Changes
Make several key changes to existing policies that are constraining cultural activity and income. These include, but are not limited to, removing the ban on restaurants charging a cover for live music; extending the six month window to re-establish a non-conforming use (Most neighborhood bars and music venues are non-conforming, meaning they are “grandfathered in” and no longer match the surrounding, often residential, zoning. Currently, if a business is closed for more than six months, it loses its non-conforming use status); and removing the moratorium on outdoor live entertainment at new businesses.
Continuity Planning for Cultural Businesses, Spaces, and Organizations
Many beloved cultural businesses and institutions remain in precarious situations and could easily be lost. With strategic partners, the City should work with these businesses and institutions to develop succession plans; identify and resolve any ongoing or potential permitting, legal, or code enforcement issues; create an emergency grant program to address unexpected expenses; and, when feasible, work towards property ownership to reduce the likelihood of a business being displaced. Priority should be given to Black-owned businesses and traditional, neighborhood-serving cultural spaces.
Engagement and Mentorship
Add a Cultural Engagement Liaison as a part of the City’s Office of Neighborhood Engagement. In conjunction with continuity planning efforts, there must be increased support for business and entrepreneurial training for young members of the cultural community. This needs to be coupled with financial support and incentives to stay in New Orleans.
Long Term Initiatives (12-36 months)
Equitable Tourism Plan
Rather than “sustainable tourism,” New Orleans needs an equitable tourism plan. This should include a pathway for a living wage for all hospitality, cultural, and tourism workers; a fully representational tourism commission/visitors bureau; a shift of resources away from large out-of-city/state corporations into local businesses; greater support for Black-owned businesses and attractions; and a political strategy to pass needed legislation at the state level.
Full Rewrite of Cultural City Code
In some instances, language in New Orleans’ City Code that governs culture and cultural practices dates back over 150 years, and most was written to limit culture, not support it. There must be a full audit and update of all laws and ordinances that impact music and cultural activity, including, but not limited to: the Noise Ordinance and Zoning Ordinance. This is an expansion of the targeted changes that will have been undertaken earlier.
Cultural Investment Fund
In partnership with The New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA) and other strategic partners, the City should create a multi-million dollar fund that invests in small, neighborhood-serving cultural businesses, with funding for both existing businesses and start-ups (this would also absorb the grant program affiliated with continuity planning). The focus should be on BIPOC and women-owned businesses, though it would be open to all. Supporting businesses that target a local clientele will help maintain neighborhood cohesion and economic stability. Not all culture has to service tourism, but the equitable tourism strategy will ensure those visitors who find their way to these spaces will be supporting the local economy.
We know there are pieces missing from this plan—it’s a 1,000-word column, not a detailed blueprint for action. But we’ve got to start somewhere, and we’ve got to push the City to start now. We’ve intended this to be a jumping off point, to generate ideas and spur action. Please take this plan, build on it, and find even more ways to help New Orleans’ cultural community. Steal our ideas. You don’t even have to give us any credit. Let’s just get moving.
The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO) is a broad-based coalition and registered 501c3 non-profit corporation that collaborates with, organizes, and empowers the New Orleans music and cultural community to preserve and nurture the city’s culture, to translate community vision into policy change, and to create positive economic impact.
This space is provided to MaCCNO as a community service and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or editorial policies of ANTIGRAVITY.