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MAC-Notes: Yes, organizing pays!


Evan Christopher (Photo by: Jason Kruppa)

All over the world, from Austin to Auckland and Barcelona to Brooklyn, people are being left behind as prosperity makes their neighborhoods much less affordable. Although we can relate to the challenges of other cities to keep their character and see similarities, gentrification in New Orleans has its own face.

Our community’s historic connection to our treasured cultural traditions sets us apart, and with  the wild economic and social dynamics of the last ten years (post-Federal- levee-failure) we saw and continue to see a unique example of “disaster capitalism” in action.

The flooding of New Orleans rendered hundreds of places uninhabitable creating a massive supply of property that was ripe for being flipped, razed or auctioned. All the while, the rebuilding of the city and the fight to preserve our culture’s vitality created demand. The effects of this combination were accelerated by our civic leaders, who facilitated a land grab for developers and real estate vultures; offered tax credits to the film industry; and created a plan to aggressively bring tourism back to pre-diluvian numbers.

Meanwhile, the diaspora of culture-bearers, who raced back from all corners of the globe, encouraged tremendous media and academic attention on what makes New Orleans so important. This attracted newcomers who either enthusiastically connected to this sentiment or simply wanted to live somewhere more interesting (or at least cheaper) than wherever they were coming from.

My ambivalence wariness and weariness of the resultant new-New Orleans culture is why I started this column a few weeks ago. Because, even though I know change is inevitable, it helps me remind myself that there’s nothing wrong with people who moved here because they hate the suburbs from whence they came, or because it’s easier to survive here financially, or because the rejuvenation of arguably the most interesting city in the USA is an easy cause to get behind.

Partly, I remind myself because all those reasons brought me here in 1994, but maybe there’s a difference. Nostalgically, I recall being in a peer group of aspiring musicians who shared a genuine respect, curiosity and admiration for the culture, and I’ve spent the last twenty-plus years trying to prove it. With newer transplants, however, I struggle to recognize expressions of empathy for the city’s struggles or signs of commitment toward bettering the community. Sometimes, I wish fatalism or opportunism could be replaced by serious will to address glaring socio-economic disparity.

If, like me, you believe that we aren’t at the mercy of the status quo, my friends with the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans have good news that could be an opportunity for you. MaCCNO is hiring a “Community Engagement Professional.” The job is largely organizational, and is in concert with their mission, to empower our cultural community and support efforts to preserve and perpetuate the expressions that define us. Executive Director, Ethan Ellestad, told me, “MaCCNO is very excited to be able to be to hire an additional staff member who will work specifically to engage New Orleans and many cultural communities.”

We need strategies that encourage building relationships with diverse stakeholders stewarding the role that culture will play in our city’s future. Ethan went on to explain that, “While [MaCCNO spends] a lot of time working behind the scenes on policies such as the zoning ordinance, the most important aspect of our work is listening to, and supporting those who are responsible for creating New Orleans music and culture.”
You’ve been asking me what you can do to show support for the city and the traditions that make you feel connected. Well, here’s a step in that direction. Help them find someone for this position, and then, be ready when this person solicits your most positive vision of our future, asks you to share valuable information and encourages you to adopt a spirit of inclusion and abandon nonproductive attitudes of subjugation.

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at evan@nolavie.com.