I’m going to make this quick; it’s 10 p.m. and finishing the Weekly Beat has been a multi-hour quest for me (we’re short-staffed at the moment, and I was in class all day. Am proud to say I’m almost finished with the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, but it’s created a killer schedule for me). Thanks to Laura, Noe and Joseph for keeping the news, news.
On Monday night I attended the “10 Years After: State of New Orleans Music Culture” panel that reporter Frank Etheridge covered earlier in this week’s news.
Those of us who know the local scene are heartened that we still have music (basically that we are here at all!), but we also know that not much has changed in the city in its attitude towards the so-called “culture bearers” in the 10 years that have passed since Katrina devastated us.
The Mardi Gras Indians, Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and almost all musicians still struggle to keep the culture and traditions alive. Our culture creators don’t make money. They do it for the love of the tradition, because it belongs to them. Because it’s essential to their spiritual lives.
But what’s happened is that these people—mostly poor and African-American—are still poor and still struggling, yet the city and tourism promoters use the culture as a drawing card for tourists and also as one of the things that as drawn so many young people to live in New Orleans. Perhaps they don’t realize with all the development taking place and the rampant gentrification in our neighborhoods, that the people who actually make the culture are being forced out of the city that relies on their culture creation to attract all these outsiders and tourists.
It’s really a tragedy.
I was waiting to hear something on Monday night that could tell me that some plan was being made, or something discussed with city government to help find a solution. But alas, the event turned into a session that largely consisted of the panel telling the audience how badly the musicians and cultural community has been treated; how the city’s been sued (successfully) for charging exorbitant permit fees so that SAPCs can hold their parades (NOPD claims that the criminal element is attracted to second line parades).
I’ve heard these complaints far too long, and something needs to be done. But you can’t just bitch and moan. You have to have a plan of action and a solution before anyone will listen. What is that solution? Most of the people on the panel agreed that it was crucially important to involve children in the practice and preservation of the culture. It’s crucial that the city be involved in supporting the culture that it so readily exploits.
To these ends, let me make these suggestions: we need a Cultural Academy that will more or less institutionalize the preservation and enhancement of our African American traditions that create New Orleans culture. We need a presence in the Mayor’s Office that will also be responsible for making sure that there is funding for African American cultural endeavors, and here’s the radical part—it should be funded by a portion of the hotel-motel tax. If the tourism promotion people want to use our music and culture as an attraction, then let them support it monetarily and give back to t