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The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation is a non-profit organization with a mission to promote, preserve, perpetuate and encourage the music, culture and heritage of communities in Louisiana through festivals, programs and other cultural, educational, civic and economic activities.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Center will provide a space for the Foundation to carry out its mission. First and foremost, the building will be a permanent campus for the Don “Moose” Jamison Heritage School of Music, a free music education program started in 1990 to offset the dwindling support for arts education in schools. The unoccupied building will be renovated to hold seven classrooms designed to correspond to the seven instrument areas taught at the Heritage School: voice, bass, brass, woodwinds, piano, percussion and guitar. The back half of the building will be transformed into a 200-seat performance hall. Situated on the dividing line between the French Quarter and the Tremé, the Jazz & Heritage Center will attract tourists and locals alike to its year-round activities and events.

ArtPlace recently spoke with Jazz & Heritage Foundation Executive Director Don Marshall to discuss the project.

ArtPlace: Have you gained any political traction with your efforts? If so, with whom and how did you do it?

Marshall: A large part of our political traction comes from the support that we receive from our project’s stakeholders. We’ve reached out to members of our state legislature – representative Helena Moreno and senator Edwin R. Murray in particular – with the backing of the local community, which is a powerful bargaining chip. A major piece of community support is gathering input and opinions from all community members – making sure they have a voice in the project’s development.

To that end, we recently held our annual Tom Dent Congo Square Symposium, a day-long event that explores a topic relevant to New Orleanians. This year’s topic was the Tremé neighborhood, which is home to our offices and to the future Jazz & Heritage Center. The symposium was titled “Treme 411: The Future of Our Historic Neighborhood.” Panelists came from a rich variety of backgrounds. We had academics, community leaders, architects and city planners, business owners, politicians from the local and Federal level, and, of course, artists. The repeated theme of the symposium was “nothing about us, is for us, without us,” a line introduced by activist and businessman Jacques Morial. That line points to the importance of having a strong community voice in urban planning.

We had a question and answer session following each panel, which allowed the public to interact with the ideas put forth by our panelists. Shaka Zulu, a Mardi Gras Indian and member of the Yellow Pocahontas tribe, asked city official William Gilchrist about the implementation of permit fees for marching groups. Gilchrist assured him that the fees would not be put into place without first gathering input from the city’s cultural tradition bearers, who make up the majority of marching groups in New Orleans.

Moments like these helped give the city’s artists a chance to shape the places where they live and perform. Furthermore, the symposium helps us connect with people who can lend us the support we need to approach our politicians. With the support of Moreno and Murray, we are pleased to report that we have been approved for a $75,000 capital outlay grant from the State of Louisiana.

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