At the LEH’s The People Say Project that featured Truth Universal and Alex McMurray, the conversation, moderated by host Brian Boyles, included a discussion on Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s development of the city’s “cultural economy.” What is this project and what are the Mayor’s goals for supporting New Orleans’ culture? Can the local government successfully implement programs to assist the musicians, artists, filmmakers and writers of the city?
On April 28, 2011, Landrieu gave his State of the City address which included a tangent on cultural economy:
“The positive economic momentum is growing every day. Our cultural economy and tourism industry continue to thrive. More than one million revelers celebrated one of the biggest and safest Mardi Gras seasons the city has seen. Huge crowds came out for French Quarter Fest and we are gearing up for another amazing Jazz Fest, Zurich
Classic and Essence Festival. New Orleans is one of the leading centers in the world for the intersection of culture and commerce.
The cultural economy in New Orleans employs 12.5 percent of our workforce – 28,000 jobs – pays $1.1 billion in wages, drives our tourism industry, and nets $8.6 million in local sales taxes, contributing to the life of the city both culturally and economically.
Film is also becoming another major economic engine. In the last year, the city played host to 35 feature films that produced $360 million in revenue for the region. We have earned the nickname “Hollywood South” and, in just the past four months, we have already surpassed last year’s economic impact. At this very moment, nine more movies are in production in your city.”
Landrieu acknowledges the important economic impact this sector of the economy plays in New Orleans. He did not propose any specific programs to further invigorate the cultural economy; rather, he extols how profitable the cultural field is for the city. If Landrieu realizes this economy is significant and seemingly long-lasting, then government programs that support the underpaid artists who create such an economy should be created. Andrew Vaught of Cripple Creek Theatre Company suggested that the many empty spaces that populate New Orleans should be remodeled for artists to use.
Despite the lack of specific announcements, perhaps plans are still in the works. Landrieu’s office does include a position that that will, in part, oversee the cultural economy. According to NOLA.com, Judy Morse will “manage policy development and strategic planning for economic development, education, social innovation, international affairs, coastal and environmental affairs, and the cultural economy.”
A few years before this speech, in December 2004, the Mayor organized Louisiana’s first cultural economy conference. The press release states, “the primary goal of this historic two-day event is to engage attendees in a discussion of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges associated with developing a business infrastructure that can add value to arts and cultural enterprises across the state. Areas to be covered include visual art, film, music, performing arts, culinary arts, design, and others.”
This goal realizes the key obstacle in this pursuit of developing a cultural economy: how to add a scaffolding of commerce to the amorphous, unpredictable artistic scene that encompasses a diverse range of expressions. With money short for Louisiana’s various art initiatives, having drastically been cut, on what funding do these proposals hope to build? Will the state only generously support the arts when it is guaranteed a portion of any profits? The role of the government should not be to commodify art and its practitioners but support them in as my ways as possible so that the role of artist can be sustained in New Orleans.