Supporters of the arts and culture in New Orleans in particular and the state of Louisiana expressed varying degrees of frustration with the outgoing Bobby Jindal administration. Under the governor’s watch, arts education funding was cut, state-owned museum operating hours were curtailed, and then-Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne complained of a lack of investment in tourism advertising — from which the culture benefits.
Now the tides appear to be turning. Incoming Gov. John Bel Edwards’ wife, Donna Edwards, has said in recent interviews that she will make music and arts education a priority in her tenure as the state’s first lady. Dardenne, who ran unsuccessfully for governor, is now part of the governor’s team while serving as the commissioner of administration. Eyes also turn to incoming Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who in his role also will serve as the head of the state’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, which oversees the Louisiana’s tourism promotion, the State Library of Louisiana, state parks and a several historic sites.
This new administration faces what appear to be annual budgets of $1 billion over at least the next two fiscal years, and so leaders will have to be creative in supporting (and funding) the arts and culture of the state.
How will that affect New Orleans, which, with its historic reputation as a mecca for music, food, art and architecture, is the leading economic engine of the state when it comes to culture?
With a new set of state executive leadership taking place, we asked several leading figures in New Orleans’ arts and culture community what priorities they’d like to see from the new lieutenant governor.
Neil A. Barclay, executive director, Contemporary Arts Center
“The Contemporary Arts Center creates exhibitions and performances that resonate with and respond to the contemporary issues of our city, and use these activities to engage our audiences in meaningful dialogues in hope of finding inspiring solutions to seemingly intractable problems. We try to set incredibly high standards for service and integrity in our work. We seek to help Louisiana tell the story of a culture beyond what might be found in plantation house tours or for that matter binge drinking on Bourbon Street — we want to help our citizens focus on a New Orleans and state that is home to a brilliant flowering of the human spirit in the 21st Century: resilient, worth visiting, worth being a contributing part of. My hope is that Lt. Gov. Nungesser will do everything he can to make sure that the Louisiana that we all deeply love gains the love, respect and admiration not only of its own citizens but of the citizens of the world as well.”
Carol Bebelle, co-founder and executive director, Ashé Cultural Arts Center
“Culture, recreation and tourism are very people-focused areas of state government. It is the lieutenant governor’s job not just to run this office but also to lead the people in bearing valued culture, bridging diverse cultures and making new culture that generates a Louisiana that is a shining example of cultural richness, equitable, and just civic, political and social life. This is done while also stimulating an economy that draws from the cultural richness of our state. Using the pivotal influence of culture and the powerful effect of art, the lieutenant governor should stimulate the economy of tourism, and also, through dialogue and cultural activities, introduce us to one another and our histories. I hope our lieutenant governor will work at weaving a new concept of “we” that includes all of us into the Louisiana history books and cultural economy. I hope he will welcome controversy and use its energy to eliminate unhealthy divisions among and between communities while building bridges of respect, tolerance and equity in Louisiana.”
Bethany Ewald Bultman, co-founding director and chair, New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic
“Dear Lt. Gov. Nungesser,
Where do you turn when you need health care? The New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic (established in 1998) keeps music alive in the tourism capital of Louisiana by providing health care to local entertainers. With LSUHSC, we operate the USA’s first and only comprehensive medical care center for cultural workers. Please help us raise the profile of our innovative and unique mission and add to our sustainability. The NOMC has literally saved the lives of many local musicians. Unfortunately, history has told us that many more music legends die from preventable diseases, often prematurely. Treating more than 2,500 patients and reaching many more through community health and advocacy, our donor-funded organization makes a difference, yet we receive very little state support. We wrestle with the question: If we do not provide much needed health care services to the culture bearers of Louisiana, who will?”
James Fitzmorris, playwright; co-owner, The Theatre at St. Claude
“The lieutenant governor is the first smile of Louisiana. An ambassador for our culture, he or she must provide the backslapping, handshaking and ‘Les Bon Temps Roulez’ people come to expect when they journey down here looking to invest in our way of life. And like it or not, much of that focus should be on New Orleans. It is the crown jewel of the state, and the first answer to the question, ‘Why is Louisiana not like the rest of The South?’ Tourism and commerce must not be directed elsewhere in the state just to satisfy the insecurities and greed of politicians or entrepreneurs. Any true champion of our state must be a champion of the Crescent City.”
Jolene Pinder, executive director, New Orleans Film Society
“From where I sit, Lt. Gov. Nungesser should make a strong commitment to promoting our state as an inimitable site for arts tourism. I think it’s time that his office takes a survey of the state’s cultural landscape, with an eye to identifying both new events on our cultural calendar and events that have seen tremendous growth in recent years. If the tourism office were to invest marketing dollars into such events that have been less on their radar (i.e. Faux Real, Southern Design Week, LUNA Fete, Creative Alliance of New Orleans’ Art Home Tours, and of course one event very near to my heart, the New Orleans Film Festival), we could increase tourism dollars for the state while providing more opportunities for indigenous Louisiana artists to have sustainable careers. Under Jay Dardenne’s leadership, I saw the Office of Tourism begin to see the potential of growing events like ours. I hope Lt. Gov. Nungesser will continue to see the arena of arts and culture tourism as a top priority.”
Kathy Randels, performance artist; founder, ArtSpot Productions
“I can’t imagine stepping into this job now; there’s such reversal of damage from the Jindal that has to be done. That said, here are five simple, positive, attainable goals for his leadership in our state that I believe can also greatly benefit the performing artists in our state:
- Hire artists from our state roster for every function you give — pay them a good rate.
- Encourage business owners and folks with money in our state to do the same.
- Bring artists and administrators from every region of the state together for a strategizing panel to hear the needs of the field on the first day of your job!
- Look to what worked in the past: FDR’s WPA and National Theatre/Writers/Art, etc., projects to create jobs for artists that will also serve the state. Louisiana is in a state of disrepair from the last administration. Artists are starving and leaving the field because of it.
- Raise the state arts budget back up to the level it was at pre-Jindal administration levels on your first day of the job; and keep raising it up each year you are in office.”
Miranda Restovic, president and executive director, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities
“As the head of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, the role of the lieutenant governor is to preserve, showcase and market Louisiana’s rich cultural heritage to those within and outside of our state. That is a big job for our culturally rich but cash-strapped state. The priority of our incoming lieutenant governor will inevitably have to be to ensure adequate and increased resources are in place to execute on the targets of his office, especially those associated with preservation and showcasing within the state. Moreover, the lieutenant governor is in a unique position to cross-pollinate services and products and unify the cultural sector across the state, which would only strengthen the Louisiana brand with its own citizens as well as tourists. The Tricentennial of New Orleans is a perfect opportunity to capitalize on this idea.”
Nick Stillman, acting director, Arts Council New Orleans
“Lt. Gov. Nungesser, congratulations and welcome to your new leadership position. Although your role as lieutenant governor is new, we trust that our argument to you will not be: arts and culture are the lifeblood of Louisiana. Our entirely distinct cultural assets are not only a crucial driver of tourism, they are essential to the quality of life of our citizens. This is why we’re asking you to increase funding for the Decentralized Arts program in each of Louisiana’s parishes. The Arts Council New Orleans’ mission is to demonstrate how art transforms communities. We integrate art as a tool and solution to the challenges our community faces — from crime, blight and youth trauma. Artists are an underutilized asset and can serve as powerful agents of change to create better, brighter, more beautiful communities while keeping Louisiana at the nation’s fore of creative innovation. We welcome an opportunity to meet and work with you to transform Louisiana through the arts.”