Following the arrest of Little Eugene Grant, we reached out to Jocelyn Kane of RHI (Responsible Hospitality Institute), and formerly with the City of San Francisco, to write a response in our series of arts business guest columns provided by The Ella Project. Kane’s credentials and biography follow at the end of this Guest Blog.
Last Monday night, the New Orleans Police Department forcibly subdued and arrested “Little” Eugene Grant, a local musician on Frenchmen St. The arrest was witnessed by many and was also captured on video. Social media wars and on site protests ensued in the days that followed, centered on the value of New Orleans nightlife and musical culture.
Jan Ramsey of OffBeat Magazine, responded quickly with a piece titled provocatively “Ban Brass Bands on Frenchmen?” However, it did not conclude the article with this solution. Rather, she recounted a 20-year history of brass bands and retail brick and mortar store vacancies, as well as ill-informed responses by NOPD, to illustrate the ongoing and current conflict. Her conclusion begged for a productive, sustainable solution for the city’s nightlife and culture overall that respects all sides, creates space for compromise, and includes consistent enforcement. Good on you, Jan. There is a solution.
There is a slow and steady, world-wide movement to create and install “Night Mayors” in cities who value their nightlife and culture. These cities include New York City, San Francisco, London, Amsterdam, Washington DC, Orlando, Pittsburgh and many more.
A “Night Mayor,” or more simply a single point of contact, most often a municipal employee, is charged with creating open lines of communication between those engaged in nightlife and culture and the city in all its regulatory forms. In this case, the Night Mayor would be charged with bringing together on behalf of the city the bookstore owner, the brass bands and the NOPD to find the compromise in the short and longer term. Therefore, a Night Mayor needs to speak the language of nightlife operators as well as that of city bureaucracy. Not an easy task, but vital to success.
The brass band conflict is just a symptom of the disease…taking nightlife and culture for granted and believing that it will just “be there” for New Orleans residents and visitors without making plans to protect and enrich it for years to come. In larger terms, there is a need for more holistic nightlife management. Cities are creating nighttime commissions, offices and alliances with dedicated staffing. These alliances vary in structure and name—Responsible Hospitality Council/Coalition, Entertainment Commission, Hospitality Resource Panels, Commissions, Offices, Departments, Task Forces—but they are united by similar objectives: To preserve and advocate for the social, cultural and economic value of dining and entertainment.
- To monitor overall trends in the nighttime economy, which may require new resources, education or legislation.
- To train and educate nightlife stakeholders to operate successful, sustainable businesses.
- To ensure public safety while minimizing quality of life impacts.
- To oversee compliance with codes and policies.
- To liaise between government agencies and the nightlife industry in regard to regulation, policy and procedures.
While creating a new city office or commission might seem like a heavy lift, it’s nothing compared to the economic value of nightlife, or the less easy-to-count cultural value. In fact, the first step typically in presenting this concept to policymakers and elected officials is finding out the actual economic impact of nightlife through a formal study. This has been done in all the cities mentioned above with Night Mayors, and in most cases, the numbers are staggering. New York City’s most recent study found the city’s nightlife economy accounts for 196,000 direct jobs and $6.2 billion in wages, as well as $1.8 billion in tax revenue for the city and state. More importantly, the study found that the nightlife sector was the only growth area in the city, and accounted for boosting lower unemployment figures and higher wages overall. These undeniable benefits are likely to be similar in a tourist destination like New Orleans. But the numbers must be counted in order to be used as an impetus toward creating a nightlife office or commission. The concept is not new. OffBeat’s online Mojo Mouth (Ramsey) talked about it almost two years ago:
As Ramsey points out in her recent article, it will take guts for the City of New Orleans to embrace the notion of supporting its nightlife and culture in a sustainable way that treats everyone with respect. Creating a Nightlife Office or Entertainment Commission can do just that.