Riffing On the Tradition: State of the Music Revisited
When I decided to focus this week on our friends at Sweet Home New Orleans and their 2011 State of the New Orleans Music Community Report, I realized that I've been "riffing" on our music community's challenges for more than nine months now.
My very first column looked at their 2010 report to discuss how our industry has evolved (or not) from our musical past. But, it’s more important for us to look at this new report, which came out earlier this summer and became available online about a month ago, in terms of our future.
Yes, some trends seem positive. With tourism and hospitality numbers figures steadily improving and the film industry busily taking advantage of the tax credits that save them 25 cents on the dollar, the 2011 report recognizes that in-town gig opportunities are finally returning to pre-federal levee failure levels. However, a deeper level of nuance in the new study reveals disquieting economic disparities within our community, which, by the way, SHNO has broadened to include Social Aid and Pleasure Club members and Mardi Gras Indians.
One quote in particular from the report really stuck with me in reference to "the various impacts of poverty on most facets of community and individual life":
"...in every measure, the cultural community is the canary in the coal mine for New Orleans recovery."
The "canary" expression, which alludes to bringing caged canaries down into mines as a way to warn of the presence of toxic gases, would be a perfect analogy if only the health of the cultural workforce was truly regarded as a barometer for quality of life in our city. Count me among those unimpressed by how many “festivals” we have at which our culture-bearers still struggle to be respected, our students are want for opportunities to meaningfully engage the arts and artists in their community, sustainable careers above the poverty line for musicians remain precarious, and the quality of our work conditions is not improving significantly.
In a recession economy, the severity of which is now in evidence worldwide, why do music venues close despite their economic and social value? Why are school music programs still disappearing, despite the positive impact music has on our children’s academic performance and sociability? Why do historically significant buildings still sit derelict as symbols of apathy when they could be symbols of our shared values?
The only conclusion one can draw is that our musical culture is not really viewed as an integral part of the solution.
You see, the data taken by SHNO is only partly to figure out how to help the cultural community thrive. It also helps our civic leaders understand our role in building a healthy community. Digesting the 2011 report is an important start, but more importantly, the 2012 survey is ready. Executive Director Sue Mobley explains its significance best:
“Sweet Home just wrapped up strategic planning, and this year's survey will be instrumental in creating a baseline measure for future economic development in the creative community as well as giving us the detailed individual data to select participants for our pilot programs. In addition, we are coordinating data with the Mayor's Office of Cultural Economy and the Claiborne Corridor Cultural Collaborative.”
Spread the word to other musicians and Mardi Gras Indians and Social Aid and Pleasure Club members. I took the survey thoughtfully and it only took 20 minutes. SHNO needs numbers, and the larger the collection of data, the more detail they can share.
Evan Christopher, a noted member of the New Orleans music community, writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie. His showcase at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival will be Saturday, August 4. All of his columns also are archived at Clarinet Road.com.