Armstrong Park and festivals

The Treme Creole Gumbo Festival is this weekend in Armstrong Park. It’s one of my favorite small festivals that’s organized and presented by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation: the music and food are great (naturally), and it’s always held in what I feel could be the best place in the city for a small festival, Armstrong Park.

Readers of Mojo Mouth will know that I’ve been cheerleading for increased Armstrong Park use (as well as for a music museum) for decades. Over the past few years, Armstrong Park has been cleaned up, renovated and is, frankly, a delightful and central place to enjoy a festival with its lagoon, lawns, trees and the many places it contains to set up staging and vendor booths. It’s also the site of the long-neglected Municipal Auditorium (possible music museum and performance space?) as well as the Mahalia Jackson Theatre for the Performing Arts.

gumbo arch landscapeThe park has so much potential!

Armstrong Park has been a political football for decades. No one seems to really be in charge of the park itself. There are a lot of political entities involved in its management and accessibility: Ace Theatre Group, which manages the Mahalia Jackson; New Orleans Parks and Parkways (which does some of the maintenance of the park); the New Orleans National Jazz Historical Park (the “Park Service”) has control of several of the venerable and historical buildings in the park. There’s no real coordination between these entities and the future of the park. We need an entity similar to City Park, and Friends of City Park that can oversee the development and future of Armstrong Park.

Leo Watermeier, who owns property across the street on North Rampart, and who is the self-proclaimed “guardian” of the park, often sends missives about problems (and perceived problems) he sees in Armstrong Park. His more recent missives have been concerned with vagrants camping around the Municipal Auditorium, and actually living in some of the historic buildings. In some cases, the buildings have certainly been neglected by the Park Service. Lack of money to do repairs is always cited as a problem.

His latest emails describe how lighting in the park has been neglected, a serious problem, since many festivals and events continue there post-sundown (the resuming of Central Standard Time instead of Daylight Savings Time is contributing to festivals and events that continue after sundown. I personally abhor CST, but that’s another column!).

Watermeier reported recently that “95 percent of the lights in Armstrong Park were out and that it is not safe for night concerts.” He says this weekend’s Treme Creole Gumbo Fest should end before sunset (it’s scheduled to end at 7:30 p.m.).

Scott Aiges, Director of Programming, Marketing and Communications at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation and the organizer of this weekend’s festival, says that the festival is providing it its own safety lights.

All well and good, but obviously the lighting issue in the Park needs to be addressed as soon as possible so that the park will be safer and more usable.

I contacted Ann Macdonald, who heads up Parks and Parkways, and she referred me to C. Hayne Rainey, with the Mayor’s Office of Communications, who has not responded to my query as of this writing.

I’m not necessarily in agreement with Watermeier that we should close the park down at night. If an organizer provides lighting, it’s more likely that a crowd of people in the park is more likely to discourage criminals than would a relatively empty park.

In any case: Armstrong Park needs its own management, and its own funding mechanisms. Lighting is only one of the problems that need to be addressed.


  • Scott Aiges

    Thanks, Jan. As Leo knows well, we also try very hard to make sure that whatever noise we make stays contained with the festival’s stage area, and doesn’t bleed over to nearby neighborhoods.