The New New Orleans, Part One:Carol Bebelle

New Orleans native; co-founder and executive director of Ashe Cultural Arts Center


  [Central City] is a community like many across the country that has had a great history and has fallen on hard times and is resurrecting itself in a fabulous way. It is a place where poor people, people of African descent and other immigrant communities have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Making this place work in contemporary times is a critically important thing to do. There's an opportunity to cook up the recipe for neighborhood in a different way, a way where everyone sits around the table.

  People who are terribly attracted to New Orleans may say they're attracted to the music or the food, but what they're really attracted to is the culture, and the core element of culture is people. They love what connectivity we have here. The social and cultural fabric of the city is one of our greatest assets. In our zeal to catch up, I really caution us not to take for granted the thing that has been the endearing and enduring heartbeat of New Orleans, which is the people.

  What I see is people just focusing on the part of: How do we improve our economy? How do we bring in some new blood? How do we manage to rebuild? How do we manage to get in step with what the present and the future require? I see some people doing that with an eye toward being certain that they are weaving together a strong bond between what our history has been, what our present is and who the people are who are there to bring them along. It is critical for us to be clear about what it is that we're doing and understanding that a homogeneous community is not what we're looking for. We're looking for a community that is very diverse and colorful and has lots of different flavors. We're not looking to make a New York or an Atlanta. What we're doing is looking to refine what we have that is so, so special — the culture.

  A lot of why these folks are coming is that they came to help us out after the storm and thought they were going to go back to their lives. But the lives they had ended up feeling less perfect after they came to New Orleans. Even in distress we had a way of being able to live life in a fashion that would be attractive to other people. In our zeal to pursue economic opportunity, we don't want to lose the vitality, the vibrancy, the very soul of the city. — AS TOLD TO KANDACE POWER GRAVES

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