A few disconnected thoughts after yesterday’s press conference for the Center for Entertainment and Creative Arts (CECI):
– It feels unkind to raise doubts about it because if it happens, it could be a wonderful thing. What’s not to like? It’ll be a performance space, an interactive jazz museum, a home for cultural non-profits, a recording space, the site of the Leah Chase Culinary Institute, and it will host Mardi Gras balls. It will be something for everybody. Then again, how many something-for-everybodys really turned out to be that? How many worked? Artworks comes to mind as another all-purpose everything, and while it has had a number of problems independent of the concept, it’s not clear that a market to sell the arts and crafts of locals who made their work in the building’s studios is anywhere near what Artworks needs it to be, and that the plans were made based on what people wanted to be true, not what was.
– Speaking of plans based on what we’d like to believe is true, at the press conference, Mayor Nagin explained that the sculptures planned for Armstrong Park would tell the story of music in New Orleans and connect the Mahalia Jackson Theather with CECI (which will be located in the Memorial Auditorium). That presumes a whole level of interest in sculpture and ability to “read” sculpture that I’ve never actually seen. It would be nice if it was true, and it would be nice if people came here for purely cultural reasons, but the enduring success of Bourbon Street should give planners reason to temper their optimism.
– If CECI comes to fruition, will that give us two world-class jazz performance venues? Didn’t I sit through a similar-but-less-ambitious press conference last year for a multi-purpose space dedicated to jazz on the top floor of the U.S. Mint?
– I admit, I’m skeptical of multi-purpose spaces. I recognize that it must be possible to create effective ones, but I can’t help flashing back to my time teaching. One building was a multi-purpose space that could house theater, speeches and public events, but it could also be split into classrooms with dividers. In the end, it was lousy for all its purposes – a distracting classroom, a lousy performance space and an awkward place for an audience, who had to sit at tables with McDonalds-like chairs attached. I’m sure James Singleton’s designs will produce something far better than that, but CECI feels like the inevitable result of someone saying, “Here’s a big, empty building. What do we do with it?”