We know that music and musical culture, with the Mardi Gras Indian groups as a core element, add immeasurably to New Orleans as a place to live, work and visit. But our musical culture-bearers unfortunately don’t have an easy time of making a living. It’s hard to be an artist, and money and resources are always tight. The revenue generated by our cultural assets does not trickle down to the artists. Something is not working: in 2011 the average income for New Orleans musicians and Mardi Gras Indians was only $18,000 annually.
It’s also been difficult for the music community to organize effectively so that they have a coherent and organized voice in the processes that affect their well-being, e.g. issues like the noise ordinance, zoning, permits and more.
But this mission has largely been accomplished by SHNO; the group has endeavored to keep track of the return of musicians to New Orleans over the years with an annually-published State of the Music Community Report, which provides an ongoing statistical assessment of the community.Last night, a group of musical culture lovers, supporters, advocates and music industry and business leaders gathered at Café Istanbul for a presentation of Sweet Home New Orleans’ (SHNO) new strategic plan. SHNO was formed post-Hurricane Katrina to provide social services to the New Orleans cultural community, and focused much of its efforts toward helping displaced New Orleans musicians Mardi Gras Indians return to their homes.
SHNO announced at last night’s event that it has spent six months reassessing its mission and has devised a new strategic plan that will help the community it serves not only live here, but to prosper as well. Sweet Home’s mission is transitioning to become more involved in the economic viability of its community.
Executive Director Sue Mobley announced on Thursday that SHNO is reorienting its work to better address challenges for musicians and Mardi Gras Indians by creating a means to provide in-depth assistance in the areas of music business and job creation, as well as extensive referral services to other resources serving the music community.
Mobley said “We’re shifting from a social service model to economic empowerment, focusing on music business training, documentation and advocacy to improve the conditions for musicians and Mardi Gras Indians to capitalize on their work. We see an opportunity in the shift to digital in the larger music industry to provide access to diversified income streams to working musicians and Mardi Gras Indians who have traditionally relied solely on live performance and as a result lived subsistence levels.”
The new plan will focus on three main areas: programming and partnership; advocacy; and research and documentation. Programs with community partners will include training in entrepreneurship and self-management; digital skills and access; marketing and consumer engagement; licensing for film and TV; project fundraising; and touring best practices.
SHNO will also continue to be engaged in documentation and research on the music community, and to provide data to inform the political process vis a vis policy-making regarding music in the city, and to be a credible voice in the community to insure that a “a voice for music” is always at the table in policymaking and economic development.
It’s compelling and timely that Sweet Home is stepping up to the table now during the formation of the grass-roots effort that stemmed out of weekly meetings at Kermit’s Speakeasy Club. That group is now named the Music & Culture Coalition, and I’m assuming that SHNO and MCC will be working together to address the issues that the music community has had for the many years I’ve been involved in the process.
The MCC group is a grass-roots effort, fueled primarily by passion for the musical culture and driven by social media; SHNO is being funded by the Ford Foundation and will have an established staff in place. Let’s hope that these two groups will work together to realize a public good for everyone in the music community.
The complete strategic plan and executive summary are available on SHNO’s website.