Is L.A. > LA when paying to play?

Feb 10, 2014 by

In October 2013, I left the place I love (New Orleans) abruptly to focus my time and attention on a person I love (my father, as his health has become precarious at best). The vast majority of my belongings now reside in a climate-controlled storage unit, awaiting my return, and I was forced to choose carefully what would travel with me based upon what would fit into my car.

On my dresser in this speed bump of a dying steel town in Western PA, I have three cherished reminders of New Orleans: a stuffed gargoyle I caught at a Krewe d’Etat parade a few years ago, a glow-in-the-dark go cup from last year’s Krewe du Vieux parade, and a small painting on found wood by a woman named Sher Stewart that I purchased off the cast iron fence while walking home through Jackson Square on a sun-drenched June afternoon:

FQ Horse Large

“French Quarter Horse Tremé Wood” by Sher Stewart 6/5/12

Of all of the quirky keepsakes and objets d’art that surrounded me in New Orleans, these were the talismans I chose to remind me of home and that this change of stars is only a temporary matter.

Fortunately, thanks to the Interwebs, I’m still able to keep up on things. While catching up on the news from NOLA today, I read of the City Administration’s bungled effort to issue 20 permits allowing artists to sell their works in Jackson Square. For the third time this month, prospective permit recipients are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to complete the procurement process (“Jackson Square artists trapped in City Hall waiting game”).

I then remembered that this is not the first time in recent memory that the artistic talent of New Orleans has put in an appearance at City Hall… On 1/17/14, opponents of the still-spectral proposed noise ordinance took their fight inside the halls on Perdido Street, as reported by Alex Woodward of The Gambit:

“A band with several trumpets, trombones, guitars, banjos, and percussion — all powerfully playing ‘It Ain’t My Fault’ — paraded to the City Hall steps and through the glass doors and past security and the front desk. City Hall staff looked on and smiled from the second floor balcony.”

Mayor Landrieu issued a statement in response to this appearance, which included the following artfully-phrased sentiment:

“We will continue to be a partner in this effort as the Council creates a clear and enforceable ordinance that honors our cultural traditions, respects our neighborhoods, and promotes responsible businesses.”

Sax player

Fog enveloping a lone Jackson Square musician braving the elements.

As I considered these recent interactions between our artists, our musicians, and City Hall, the following question came to mind:

Why doesn’t the New Orleans City Administration work as hard at serving our own artists and musicians as it does when catering to Hollywood South?

For example, during the recent “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” filming activity, several blocks of the Central Business District were taken over and streets were closed for almost two months’ time… I’m certain that the movie’s producers didn’t have to camp out at or storm City Hall to be permitted to do so. And although the economic gains of the more than 20 year-old Louisiana film tax credit program have yet to be verified and substantively documented, the city cuts through the red tape on behalf of Hollywood South through its Office of Cultural Economy’s Film New Orleans office. Hollywood South gets official press releases; everyday participants in New Orleans’ creative economy get controlled by ordinances and/or permits and rescheduled.

Hollywood South gets to occupy whatever it so pleases; the artists and musicians of New Orleans instead have to spend their time occupying City Hall… doesn’t that seem like our city is treating its own talent as the creative underclass? I’ll believe that it’s not separate and unequal if and when I ever see city staff and office space dedicated to serving the needs of our own talented and local creative economy.

For the past four months, I’ve been living in a place where live music performances are by far the exception (I’m lucky if something’s happening around here more than twice a month); local art by those who make and sell their work on a daily basis is also equally rare. I left a place where an extraordinary number of musicians perform original music as the bulk of their respective sets; now I get to hear technically perfect top 40 cover songs and maybe a single original tune every other set.

I’ve joked with friends that the only two things that work for me in this detestable place are the fact that there aren’t any thieving red light cameras and that the bars all feature heavy pours and cheap drinks. I’ve also wondered about why there’s an epidemic-level illegal drug problem in this dying steel town; is the fact that there’s zero local culture to be savored something which contributes to this state of being?

In New Orleans, my life has its own soundtrack and an open air art gallery to enjoy whenever I please; here I have only whatever is playing on the jukebox while surrounded by walls featuring advertising… it’s simply dismal.

New Orleans city officials must begin nurturing and protecting the city’s creative class by making its participants as much of a priority as is true for the tax-credit fueled boondoggle known as Hollywood South; to do anything less is to treat our city’s own talent as the creative underclass.


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