New Orleans Jazz & Heritage CenterNew Orleans, LA
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation is renovating a historic New Orleans building into a music campus, performance venue, and community center. The project will breathe new life into the famed Tremé neighborhood and will help spur economic development for the immediate area as well as the southeast Louisiana region. ArtPlace spoke to Scott Aiges, Director of Programs, Marketing and Communications, about the project.
ArtPlace: What has been your thorniest issue you’ve faced to date? How have you dealt with it?
Scott Aiges: Our thorniest issue to date is the length of time it’s taken for construction to begin. We’ve had issues with the extent of remediation work (related to asbestos and lead-based paint) that’s needed before construction can begin. It’s a cliché that’s repeated endlessly until it seems almost meaningless, but everything really does take longer than you expect on a building project. That’s our reality right now, and it’s a difficult one to handle on a number of levels. First, there’s the fact that the building deteriorates as you wait for construction to begin. We’ve had the outside of our building tagged with graffiti and the interior grows mold at an alarming rate. What was once a semi-usable building is now barely fit to enter. Then there’s the problem of fundraising. Every single appeal we’ve submitted, whether to a group, individual, corporation, or government office, includes a timeline of activities surrounding the Jazz & Heritage Center. We’ve had to tell several of our funders – including ArtPlace – that we’re behind on starting construction. Luckily, we have a good reason, but it’s still hard to explain that although we aren’t sticking to our timeline, we’re still going to fulfill 100% of our promises made in the application. It just might take us longer to do so.
Our two ways of dealing with this delay in construction are 1) honesty and 2) finding a “silver lining” in the new schedule. Our silver lining is that we now get more time to grow our programming, to increase our organization’s visibility, and to reach out to possible partners across the greater New Orleans area. We have time to refine our strategies for making the Jazz & Heritage Center a resounding success. I am pleased to say that our programming is better than ever, that our audiences are literally exceeding the capacity of our venues, and that the new initiatives we’ve introduced in the last year have been extremely well-received. One of our new programs, Class Got Brass, allocates $30,000 to area middle and high schools to purchase instruments for their in-school music programs. Student brass bands compete for the funds with a second-line competition. Even those who do not win gain the experience of playing for the public and receive feedback from our panel of celebrity judges. The great thing about Class Got Brass is that it serves a dual purpose: it supports the arts programming in our local schools, and it introduces us to the young musicians who are interested in playing jazz and participating in the marching tradition. This helps us to recruit students to the Heritage School of Music, which will be the main program taking place in the Jazz & Heritage Center. The Heritage School of Music can be the difference between making music a hobby and gaining the support and training to make it a professional career. If we were planning for a Jazz & Heritage Center opening date of fall 2013, we wouldn’t have had the time or resources to start a new program like Class Got Brass. Now we have hundreds more kids interested in our programming and a growing relationship with the band directors in the New Orleans schools.
ArtPlace: Would you have done anything differently to avoid this delay in construction? Do you have any advice for other organizations facing a similar situation?
Aiges: Well, I think that we could have been more realistic with our project timeline. We were very excited to get going, and may have shorted the amount of time needed for each stage of the process. I’d recommend padding your time rather than compressing it … it’s a lot nicer to be ahead of schedule than behind.