New Orleans breathes art in its fundamental spirit, as residents and visitors alike will admit. Even after Katrina in 2005, 150-year-old Carnival culture returned without surprise as early as 2006, allowing for the beautiful display of tribal pride through feathered costumes, elaborate paintings and floats. New Orleans is alive, and despite natural disasters that continue to plague the city with slower infrastructural progress than municipal and national governments could be held accountable for, the artist communities continue to thrive and produce in the forums of jazz funeral costumes, Mardi Gras, film sets, street art, galleries, museums, storefronts, and public art.
Visiting New Orleans to participate in its art community has shaped thousands of artists. Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso and Diego Rodriguez among others have found inspiration in the magical Southern belle, known to have graced the seats of the famous round-the-clock Café du Monde as the world passed them by. Today up-and-coming-artists flock to the city for opportunities at co-ops and studios and enjoy great creative freedoms fueled by an overall active community and supportive cultural organizations and funding.
That same landscape that inspired fine artist greats is rightfully becoming a one of the top backdrops for cinematic creations. In 2009, the city increased its tax credits for the filmmaker, establishing it as Hollywood South among insiders opening up massive opportunities for cinematic artists, graphic designers, and other creative professionals. "Louisiana's incentive program is now even more powerful. But filmmakers also need to know that their creative vision can be accomplished. We want to show them that New Orleans not only makes the most fiscal sense, it makes the most creative sense," says Micah Haley, Deputy Director of the New Orleans Office of Film & Video.
However, because of a drastic fall in tourism first in 2005 after Katrina and next after the BP oil spill in the Gulf this year, city and cultural movements to rebuild and renew have been stunted. It is clear that national and global support of the Big Easy was wildly palpable after those disasters and also through celebrations like annual Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and the Saints football win in the 2009 Superbowl. Despite cultural draws, the loss of tourist revenue has taken a toll on the inspiring city and the inspired artists.
According to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the New Orleans cultural economy is a driving catalyst for economic development in other sectors, as it lays the foundation for the attractiveness of the Greater New Orleans area to entrepreneurs, major corporations, and professionals in all fields. One out of every twelve people in Louisiana is employed as a result of the tourism industry, ensuring arts funding in general.
Media coverage of the oil spill has purveyed myths that are damaging tourism and thus the art community more than necessary. According to Kelly Schulz and the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, "visitors to New Orleans should know that the city is located one-hundred miles inland, thus we have avoided any physical or environmental damage. Additionally, the BP oil spill has had no impact on the air or water quality in New Orleans both of which are completely safe and unaffected." Thus, artists producing pieces are not seeing enough traffic to allow for their movement in galleries, on the street and in their studios.
Local artist Pamela Reed who moved from Arizona several years ago says of recent developments, "It's a dead zone right now. A convention that was supposed to have 45,000 visitors downtown actually had very few show up. Katrina and BP definitely affected tourism and wedding photography business for me. I feel a little less confident in the success of the arts community because of this. People are going to continue to create, but visitors are not coming to buy."
As an up-and-coming-artist, denying yourself a visit to the lively, wholly unique American city is to cheat yourself a cultivating experience. Inspiration will be found in the forms of amazing cuisines (seafood continues to be served with rigorous standards that would not allow for the sale of tainted delicacies), music, dance, fine art, and especially locals with a magical communal energy that will draw you into its Creole inertia.
The symbiosis of your visit will also greatly support the NOLA arts culture directly and indirectly. Check out local artists at a database dedicated to propelling regional and local New Orleans artists at http://www.margaritakorol.com/nolaisart. Find your muse and let's band together to laissez les bons temps rouler!