Musicians marched into City Hall in 2014 to protest a draft of the so-called noise ordinance. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • Musicians marched into City Hall in 2014 to protest a draft of the so-called noise ordinance.

Mayoral candidates Michael Bagneris, LaToya Cantrell and Desiree Charbonnet will participate in a forum discussing the future of New Orleans musicians — and whether they'll have a voice in City Hall — in a city that fears risking their loss as it changes.

The forum — presented by The Ella Project, OffBeat Media and The Recording Academy — is 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11 at the Carver Theatre (2101 Orleans Ave.)

Columnist Lolis Eric Elie will moderate a panel with Offbeat publisher Jan Ramsey, Black Men of Labor co-founder Fred Johnson, Melissa Weber (aka DJ Soul Sister), and music writer Larry Blumenfeld.

Candidates will discuss their plans, if elected, for building on New Orleans' "reputation as a beloved music city" and how music and performance will flourish "in concert with
continued neighborhood development." Candidates also will discuss other ways in which they'll work with the music community, and whether they'll work with artists in addressing quality of life issues, education, housing and public safety.

At a series of meetings earlier this month, the Ella Project asked musicians and artists what issues mattered most to them. "It runs the gamut," says Ella Project co-founder Gene Meneray.

Performers earning nontraditional incomes face similar issues as those illustrated in this week's cover story — from rising costs of living with stagnant wages to a lack of reliable transportation and housing as the city begins a slow, expensive process of rebuilding an entire infrastructure. That music community expands to the bars and venues, bartenders, music shops and countless others in its orbit.

According to the Office of Cultural Economy, "cultural industries" in New Orleans were responsible more than 37,000 jobs and represented 14 percent of the city's workforce in 2016. While more than 40 percent was in food and drink, nearly 30 percent was in entertainment. (More than half those "entertainment" businesses are music venues.)

But New Orleans artists rely on a local economy that banks on catering to tourists, often at the expense of those same local artists depending on tourist dollars. New Orleans has never been a "music industry" city but has sustained a network of small studios and fostered full-time musicians and independent record labels. New Orleans won't be the next Nashville — "That model is pretty much is toast at this point," Meneray says — but it risks losing its cultural core without the "culture bearers" who also are responsible for drawing in out-of-town dollars.

With the dissolution of a traditional "music industry," Ella Project co-founder Gene Meneray asks, "How does that realignment of resources come to New Orleans-style players who were never selling millions of records anyway?"

"While it's doing OK, there’s great opportunity to really grow it and find ways to continue to allow it to make a good living especially as the cost of living goes up," he says.

Meneray says the "end" of the noise ordinance debate and the city's controversial crackdown on music venues and nontraditional performance spaces is likely to resurface as the next administration steps in.

"Our hope, with the new administration, is that we're not responding to crisis and lawsuits" but rather drafting policy alongside city officials, Meneray says.

Particularly at issue are protecting street parade traditions and divorcing music clubs and performance spaces from the "noise" of stereotypical T-shirt shops blasting music from open doors. Instead of policing "noise" and other "nuisance" problems using the New Orleans Police Department, Meneray says the city should consider finding ways to manage its nighttime economy with city liaisons working later than City Hall's closing time. "It's not fair to police and not fair to everyone else either," he says.

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