Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, AL is May 16-18, 2014 - www.hangoutmusicfest.com

Spur of the moment ideas

Last week, I was honored to receive a proclamation from the New Orleans City Council recognizing OffBeat for supporting local music for the past 25 years. It was quite an honor, as I was also in City Council Chambers at the same time as the venerable Mrs. Leah Chase who was also being recognized, and Phelps Dunbar attorney Kim Boyle, who was the Committee Chair for the Host Committee for the NCAA Women’s Final Four in New Orleans. The event was successfully attracted to New Orleans and will begin on April 6.

Ms. Boyle gave a wonderful presentation to the City Council, and profusely thanked the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation for their help and support in attracting the event to New Orleans.

The Sports Foundation (GNOSF) was created in August 1988 (the same year OffBeat was born). It’s a 501 (c)(4) non-profit organization whose mission is to attract and to manage sporting events that have a positive economic impact on the Greater New Orleans Area. The GNOSF touts the fact that it has turned a $25-million investment from private and public sources into a $1-billion economic impact. Part of the organization’s money comes from the State of Louisiana, grants and from private funding. According to their web site: “With every event the GNOSF brings to the area, the beneficiaries are wide in scope, including the hospitality industry, city, parish and state taxes, business community, local youth, facilities, and the event organizers themselves.” The GNOSF has obviously been a resoundingly successful entity for the city’s economy using sports as its focus.

I’ve pondered in this space many times why sports seems to take precedence over the city’s music in marketing efforts. Then it came it me: there’s an organization that does this!

So, after Ms. Boyle’s presentation, the thought popped into my head on the spur of the moment: “If a Sports Foundation can attract more sporting events to the city, and can measure its success in economic impact, then why can’t the City of New Orleans create a Music and Entertainment Foundation to do the same thing for music events, and events related to music?”

One of the major problems in New Orleans recognizing music as a boon to her economy is the fact that the entire music economy is so fragmented. All the large festivals boast about their economic impact, and they all try to outdo the others. Musicians fight for recognition. Music educational projects come and go, and they are always looking for financial support too. It’s sort of accepted that music “people” are antagonistic towards each other. They’re all fighting for the same dollars. I suppose that’s probably a normal situation, given that they are all in business and their events and projects are fighting for sponsorship and ticket sales.

But what if we had one entity that represented all events, all festivals, all musicians and anyone else involved in the music economy: clubs, promoters, concerts, educational events, conventions? Wouldn’t it be good to show some cohesiveness to what we are all trying to accomplish? Wouldn’t it be great if there was some cohesive marketing for music, festivals, events? Wouldn’t it be fantastic to show how much music contributes to our economy? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to work with tourism entities like the New Orleans CVB, the Tourism Marketing people to attract more music events here? We might even be able to develop and promote a brand touting New Orleans as a music city—officially.

Okay, okay, I’ve been through the days of local and state Music Commissions and Music Offices. They’re either very politicized, run by people with limited visions, internal agendas, or aspirations to exert power, or—in the case of the music office in the first term of Ray Nagin’s regime—not even funded. Nagin’s creation of a “Music Office” was one that existed in name only. It had it no funding for programming.

Last week , while thanking the City Council for the recognition, I mentioned this idea to the members of the City Councilmembers and it almost looked like “eureka” idea bubbles popped out of their heads. Why hadn’t they thought of this sooner? They actually liked the idea.

The key would be to create a quasi-public organization that is semi-funded by the city (and/or state) but that raises its own funds in order to manage and promote music, music education and music-related events. The organization would work with festival promoters and developers, locations, neighborhood organizations, musicians and educators to develop plans to expand New Orleans’ position as a music city worldwide. Councilman Palmer promised to look into the funding sources for such a foundation.

I’m not saying that the idea would work, but it’s sure one to be considered. We need a way to coalesce our efforts so that everyone benefits. This might be an answer.