Art, Culture, & Food for Thought: Questions on the Role of the Arts in Our Economy
The whirlwind of Jazz Fest has come to a close. Hundreds of thousands of visitors who came to see Al Green, Trombone Shorty, and the Rolling Stones (almost) have returned home, well-fed and watered with beignets and Sazeracs.
The end of Jazz Fest marks the unofficial end of the holiday season – a season that starts around Thanksgiving and miraculously spans six months. By the time the end of May rolls around every year, I’m exhausted. Exhausted, but inspired. Every year and without fail, this city blows me away with the incredible value of its creative and cultural assets.
Within the past two months, some of the city’s biggest fests have soared to new heights. French Quarter Fest had the highest number of attendees in its 36-year history, and Jazz Fest hit its highest attendance since Hurricane Katrina. Between the two, they pulled over a million attendees.
The city’s achievements don’t just begin and end with its fests. This past January the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute (NOCHI) welcomed its first class of students. With the mission of giving a diverse community of food lovers the opportunity to bring their culinary passion to life, the establishment of NOCHI provides the opportunity to cultivate the next generation of chefs serving New Orleans and beyond. NOCHI now joins the ranks of institutions like the University of New Orleans’ School of the Arts and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), which supply our city with a steady flow of graduates who create the magic and wonder New Orleans is known for in the visual and performing arts.
While the fests have been reaching greater audiences and arts institutions have been developing the next generation of creatives, the city has been full of artists and culture bearers – big and small, decades-old and newly-established – bringing beauty, joy, and thought-provoking commentary to New Orleans on a daily basis.
How incredible that we get to live in this city and experience it all! And through our work with organizations that contribute to the New Orleans cultural economy, like NOCHI, UNO, NOCCA, Arts Council, LPO, NOVAC, and many more, we at trepwise get to experience even more of its layers than we do while we are out on the city’s streets. In having the opportunity to intimately understand the inner workings of many of these organizations, my appreciation for the work of artists and culture bearers in New Orleans has grown and grown.
One of the greatest contributions of art is that it challenges us to ask questions about us as a community, as a broader society, and as individuals sharing in the human experience. At trepwise, one of our values is investing in community and collaborating to create equitable and sustainable change. And as we work with organizations challenging us to ponder difficult questions, it is impossible to not consider questions at the intersection of equity and the arts….
- What art gets to be part of the city’s cultural narrative, and why?
- How can we make art accessible to those with minimal financial resources while also supporting the city’s artists?
- When do recognition and financial profits go hand in hand, and when do they not?
- How can we harness the existing strengths of our cultural economy to build a more equitable city?
- What are the mechanisms through which tourism and arts dollars pass through to the arts creators, and how can we build equity into those mechanisms?
These questions are not new, but neither are they solved. Stay tuned… we have more thinking to come.
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