Seguenon Kone and Ivoire Spectacle

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation is renovating the building next door to its offices into the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Center. The new facility will give the Jazz & Heritage Foundation space to grow existing programs and an opportunity to introduce new initiatives into the city’s network of cultural, educational, and economic resources. Construction on the 19th-century building is expected to begin in October 2012. The completed project will bring together traditional New Orleans architecture with elements of modern design. The front of the facility will hold seven classrooms upgraded to accommodate music education and more. The rear will be built from the ground up into a 200-seat, state-of-the-art performance hall hosting the best of Louisiana’s local artists along with an outstanding line-up of touring national acts.

ArtPlace spoke with Director of Programs, Marketing & Communications Scott Aiges about the challenges facing the Jazz & Heritage Foundation as it looks forward to the Jazz & Heritage Center’s 2014 opening.

ArtPlace: Is there a new challenge that engaging in placemaking presents for you, your organization and the artists who work with you?

Scott Aiges: First, let me address an old challenge: weather. I’m happy to report that both the Foundation offices and the future Jazz & Heritage Center came through last month’s Hurricane Isaac relatively unscathed and all of our staff made it safely through the storm. The same cannot be said for the 75-ft. sycamore tree that stood in the corner of our parking lot. It came crashing down and nearly took the back half of the Jazz & Heritage Center with it. Luckily, the tree missed the building by a few yards and our demolition crew keeps its job.

Now, as far as placemaking challenges: on the one hand, creative placemaking is part of our organization’s DNA. We’ve been in the business of festival production since the 1970’s. We have a long, successful record of creating cultural events that are tied to the uniqueness of our particular place. However, we’ve never had to manage a building entirely devoted to programs. We’ve always used rental space, whether a theater, classroom, or conference room, to carry out our programming. Rather than the itinerant exercise of setting up and taking down, we’ll have a piece of permanent real estate to develop and manage, with all of the challenges that come along with it. We have to not just revise and expand our current programming, but think creatively about who we can partner with to reach a wider audience of people. Through past collaborative programming and our community grants, we have strong ties to many of the stakeholders in the cultural economy of the city. We’ll have to explore and expand those ties in the coming months so that our work has the greatest possible returns for the city, the neighborhood, and the other cultural organizations and artists working on a similar mission. Our Foundation staff will be instrumental to meeting this challenge. Executive Director Don Marshall gained valuable experience with placemaking in the visual arts during his time with the Contemporary Arts Center. We’ll also be looking at adding an experienced building manager to oversee day to day operations as we get closer to the building’s opening.

ArtPlace: Are there new skills required?

Aiges: I’m not sure that there are any skills lacking in our current staff, but we need to have a more outward-looking approach to our programs and long-range planning goals. I think it’s natural for an organization to look inward when it’s honing its programming and finding its fit within the many public and private organizations that make up the philanthropic landscape. Building a sound identity and educating people on our mission has taken time, especially against the backdrop of Jazz Fest. But our programming has never been more effective and we’re creating a brand for ourselves apart from Jazz Fest, so when combined with the opportunities provided by the forthcoming Jazz & Heritage Center, it’s the perfect time to build outward. In other words, to see what kind of collaborations we can use to take our programming to the next level of effectiveness and impact.

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