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Riffing On the Tradition: The music and culture coalition of New Orleans

Last Wednesday’s community meeting at Kermit’s Tremé Speakeasy was the sixth weekly gathering by the cultural community to organize and give shape to a united response for permitting and zoning concerns that have been impacting cultural activity in the city. It was the first that I was able to personally attend, and although the modest turnout evoked concern, I was impressed by the focus, unity about our needs and goals, and the overall civility of the discourse.

For those who are more-less lurking to see how these meetings develop, I can tell you confidently that this effort is real. Furthermore, as of last Wednesday, the movement even has a title: The Music & Culture Coalition of New Orleans.

Not be confused with “The New Orleans Cultural Coalition,” which is a collaborative effort among seven New Orleans cultural organizations, this newly formed coalition is an open network for any and all who wish to participate in the dialogue about reconciling the city’s “Master Plan” with a vibrant, healthy cultural landscape.  I should note the very important fact that, although an advisory committee is being formed to share needed expertise in the areas of law, permitting and zoning, urban planning, and even marketing, there is no concentration of leadership or representation and therefore much less danger that the coalition can be co-opted by individuals for personal agendas or political posturing.

Last Wednesday, in addition to several professional musicians and music community advocates, there were in attendance marketing professionals excited by possibilities to put a public face on the coalition, club owners such as Circle Bar’s Dave Clements, lawyers including Owen Courreges and Ashley Keaton, advocacy professionals such as Sue Mobley of Sweet Home New Orleans, and even Scott Hutcheson from the Mayor’s office.

Yet, in spite of the professional diversity of the gathering, I also observed a conspicuous absence of veteran musicians, members of cultural organizations such as Social Aid & Pleasure Club members and Mardi Gras Indians, and citizens from the neighborhoods affected by the recent zoning enforcement activity.

Just as there remains cause to be extremely wary of the murky world of the mayoral permits, there is every reason to have a good feeling about the building momentum of this effort and the level of agreement. Participation is crucial by everyone concerned with the evolving role of cultural workers and businesses in the “new” New Orleans.

As “New Orleans Noise” announced, “This new coalition exists for you to speak. It does not exist to speak for you.” So, join us at the next Wednesday meeting and spread the word by all means available.

Slated for discussion this week are scheduling of “teach-ins.” Scott Hutcheson himself has offered to lead a free session to help explain how to “connect the dots” in the permitting process. Entertainment lawyer Ashleye Keaton will direct a session about the current “noise” ordinances, and lawyer Mary Howell, who has successfully kept musicians on the streets for a generation, will schedule a discussion about zoning.

Also to be discussed is the organization of efforts to help musicians in the Northeast affected by Hurricane Sandy. Currently, much-needed relief efforts are being organized by the Grammy Foundation’s MusiCares and also by Jazz Foundation of America. I strongly encourage New Orleans musicians, especially those who benefited from relief efforts by these groups after 2005, to gather at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at Kermit Ruffins' Treme Speakeasy, 1535 Basin St., to discuss how our community might be able to return the kindness.

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and a founding member of Nola Art House Music. He writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie.

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 [email protected]