Recently, the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation was absorbed by the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau, New Orleans & Co. Last year, NOTMC received about $15.7 million in funding that included $8 million from local hotels and $2 million from Harrah’s Casino. That amount will now go to New Orleans & Co. The remaining $6 million was derived from hotel tax, and originally it was supposed to help support and upgrade the city’s infrastructure. But a new plan was introduced last Friday to fund the city’s Office of Cultural Economy and to create grants for programs related to New Orleans culture.
What does that mean? Another $5.7 million slush fund to help fund grants to “deserving” organizations that are favorites of politicians? Because, as we all know, in New Orleans, it’s not what you know, but who you know. This is not what we need, not by a long shot.
There is, at the moment, no plan to use the funding. The current Office of Cultural Economy hasn’t done much of anything that I can determine. Why would we fund an office with close to $6 million that doesn’t have a plan or even a clear strategic goal or programs to achieve the goals? If you don’t think that’s the case, check out their website. The last programs that were undertaken were in 2016, under the previous administration. Josh Cox, director of strategic initiatives for Mayor LaToya Cantrell, wasn’t clear about how the money would be spent. According to a report in the New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune “Part of the reason we left it as broad as we did [in the proposal presented Friday] is because we don’t want to be foreclosing opportunities that we don’t know are on the horizon.” Cox also suggested that the city might seek to use revenue generated by the French Market Corp. (FMC) to provide money for “dance companies or museums.” Although I agree that the FMC does generate a lot of revenue (it could generate much more if it were privatized, in my opinion), funneling it all into a grant pool would be a severe waste of an opportunity to do things right.
In addition to creating Cultural Economy Grants (which would be well-policed), we have an unprecedented opportunity to use this money to create a well-funded office to handle all concerns related to the “cultural economy.” While local non-profits may need funding, a better use for this windfall would be to hire someone to manage, improve and handle anything to do with cultural issues. I’m not saying that some granting wouldn’t be possible, but for goodness’ sake, let’s not go down the same path of political slush funds. The city should seek and hire someone experienced in cultural management, a smart cookie who can interact with multiple city agencies, and take some long-needed action in the city to actually manage, preserve, market and improve New Orleans culture and to show the world that we know what the hell we’re doing when it comes to the culture, our most important renewable economic resource.