When the last mayoral race took place, OffBeat Magazine, the Loyola Music Business Studies program and MusicSwingsVotes.org and several concerned members of the music community, including Reid Wick of the Grammy organization, Sherri McConnell (who then worked as the head of the Louisiana Entertainment Office), Scott Aiges (Programs and Marketing Director for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation) and many others put together a mayoral forum on Monday, January 11, 2010 for the candidates who were jockeying to lead New Orleans as its new Mayor.
The purpose of the event was to insure that the economic development of the music industry was a priority for mayoral candidates; that questions on music as economic development tool were discussed at various forums and meetings; and that music industry professionals (and those that support music) were viewed as an important voting block.
The Music Swings Votes group asked mayoral candidates to sign a pledge that they would 1) Create and adequately fund an office of music industry development to support the efforts of musicians and music industry professionals in the economic growth of the industry; 2) Make music a stronger focus in the city’s brand development and advertising campaign.
All the candidates were asked to weigh in on the importance of music to the economic health of New Orleans and how they would leverage music in their economic development plans if elected mayor. Here is the pledge we asked the candidates to sign:
Whereas, music has formed a cultural foundation for the city of New Orleans and its people since its earliest days nearly 300 years ago; and
Whereas, New Orleanians value the role of music, arts, food, and creativity as cornerstones of the city’s unique culture and aspects that cement the city’s role as a crown jewel of American cities; and
Whereas, music and the music industry offer unique opportunities for economic development and investment unmatched by other cities in the United States; and
Whereas, the city’s musicians, music industry professionals, artists, and creative citizens provide a uniquely talented workforce to support economic development; and
Whereas, music, arts and culture offer unique routes to personal prosperity and fulfillment and make significant contributions to the city’s overall growth and prosperity that should be enhanced and supported by city government and New Orleans’ citizens.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, (insert name)____________________________, candidate for Mayor of the City of New Orleans, do hereby pledge to support the role of music and the music industry if elected mayor by
- Creating and adequately funding an Office of Music Industry Development to support the efforts of musicians and music industry professionals in the economic growth of the industry.
- Making music a stronger focus in the city’s brand development and advertising campaigns.
- Creating an Advisory Commission on Culture that will meet on a monthly basis to address issues relating to music, art, theatre, digital media and other cultural areas. Commission is to be comprised of city departments, including but not limited to public works, planning and permitting, HDLC, economic development and other city agencies that impact the economic development of the arts.
- Pledging to keep the operations and contractual methodology of this office transparent and ethical and without conflict of interest.
- Challenging all mayoral candidates to sign this pledge.
I urge all citizens of the city of New Orleans to support music, the arts and New Orleans’ unique culture through social and economic means.
Guess who the only candidate was who signed the pledge? Mitch Landrieu.
The New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation has selected a new advertising agency (Dentsu America, based in New York); it’s high time that the Landrieu administration live up its pledge it made to the music community over two years ago. There’s a golden opportunity to realign the city’s marketing strategy to focus on music, instead of the same old clichés: “Come Out To Play,” “You’re Different Here,” and blah, blah. What is there to lose with a strategy promoting music? It’s just long overdue.
When visitors walk down Bourbon Street, are they aware of the music on that street? Of course they are! . We have the perfect opportunity to do something different with the city’s marketing efforts to attract visitors to the state. Step up, Dentsu America (the NOTMC’s new ad and branding agency). Think New Orleans music. I’ll send you a list of possible slogans that our readers came up with years ago to promote New Orleans as a music destination.
But then we must address the city’s rabid attack on shutting down bars and clubs that feature music. It should be just as easy to feature live music as it is to get an alcoholic beverage permit. In fact, it should be easier.
Personally, I don’t believe that the city is targeting music at clubs such as Siberia, Mimi’s, the Circle Bar, maybe even the Spotted Cat or the Apple Barrel. I believe that the city just wants to make sure that everything is legal and that permits are purchased, especially so that everything is copasetic prior to Superbowl (which currently seems to be the event to end all events to New Orleans; it’s the city’s holy grail as a deadline for fixing streets, building infrastructure, training people, etc.) Do you remember that at one point in time the city collected an amusement tax from any venue that had a “mayoralty permit” that allowed live music to be played on premises music. The onerous tax was levied on sales of food and beverage only when music was playing in clubs (pretty byzantine, I know). Interestingly, the larger venues in town, such as the Superdome, the Saenger Theatre and others were exempt from the tax because it was felt that promoters wouldn’t route touring shows through New Orleans as an amusement tax on ticket sales would severely impact the promoters’ bottom lines. So the big guys got exempted, and the little guys—the clubs who in many ways are the lifeblood of the city’s music scene, were the ones burdened with the tax (irony, huh?).
For years and years, the amusement tax was discussed ad infinitum and finally two attorneys got the city to temporarily stop levying the tax (it’s never been reinstated, and God forbid it ever is). One of those attorneys was…Mitch Landrieu!
My solution is to make it easier to have live music permitted anywhere in New Orleans that has a zoning for an alcoholic beverage license. The “moratorium” on new music venues should be done away with. The archaic practice of not grandfathering a license for live music after a business has been closed for six months is just rubbish. This is why we no longer have live music on North Rampart Street. Both the Funky Butt and Donna’s both met their demise like this.
MusicSwingsVotes still survives on Facebook. If you care about making sure that music continues to be part of New Orleans culture, then get off your butt and at least participate in MSV. Better yet, use MusicSwingsVotes to organize a march or marches on City Hall. When will city officials and tourism folk realize and admit that the city’s foundation as a destination largely depends on music; that our culture depends on it? When will they stop giving it lip service and actually do something proactive?
Mitch, it’s up to you to step in and step up for music. It’s time to live up to the pledge.