Keith Spera from The Times-Picayune was privileged enough to be a fly on the wall at a pow-wow between painters, musicians and politicians orchestrated at the epicenter of cultural convergence, The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Check out Spera’s article below…
Had a meteor struck between Jazz Fest’s Fais Do Do and Congo Square stages on Saturday afternoon, the Louisiana arts community would be a whole lot poorer.
In a backstage trailer, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu presided over a roundtable discussion populated by a cross-section of cultural entrepreneurs and artists: Restauranteurs John Besh and Donald Link. Zyde-soul singer Terrance Simien. James Michalopoulos, creator of this year’s Jazz Fest poster and several others. Art gallery owners Arthur Roger and Jonathan Ferrara. Nick Spitzer, host of syndicated radio show “American Routes.” Putumayo Records founder Dan Storper, whom Landrieu happened to spot strolling by.
For an audience of invited media, they each testified to the importance of the arts to Louisiana’s cultural economy. The setting was exhibit A – smack dab in the middle of Jazz Fest, with Cajun accordion bleeding into the trailer from Fais Do Do and the deep-funk brass of the Rebirth Brass Band rumbling from Congo Square.
They all reiterated that arts and culture are among the state’s chief attractions.
“I know of no one who stayed here, or who moved here, because of the infrastructure,” Spitzer said.
Michalopoulos testified that New Orleans provides a “hospitable culture for creativity.
Storper, who has traveled the globe to find music for his label, now lives in New Orleans part-time; Putumayo has an office here. He compared New Orleans to Paris, Havana and Rio, “places where people come together to make great music.”
With cuts to the state’s marketing budget a possibility, the session was intended in part to justify the cost of promoting music, food and culture – including Jazz Fest itself – and providing tax incentives for movie and record producers.
Cutting such budgets, Landrieu said, is the equivalent “of eating your seed corn…it is penny wise, but pound foolish.”
Simien said a preponderance of young zydeco bands indicates the music is as vital as ever. Sporting one of Jazz Fest’s new souvenir T-shirts, Landrieu asked Simien to reveal who won the first Grammy in the Cajun/zydeco category.
“I didn’t want to go there,” Simien said, before confessing that he was the winner.