The Jazz & Heritage Gallery featuring photographs from the collection of the New Orleans African American Museum.

The Jazz & Heritage Gallery featuring photographs from the collection of the New Orleans African American Museum.

Things are moving along on Rampart St. On the facilities side, we’ve completed asbestos abatement and we’re moving toward renovation and construction of our soon-to-be George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center. We have a signed contract with local construction firm Donahue Favret and next week we’re deciding on a construction start date.

On the programs side, we just completed a survey of our Heritage School of Music students. The Heritage School of Music will be the primary activity taking place in the Center, and we are making plans to grow the program to justify the building’s seven classrooms and 200-seat performance hall. We’ve gathered basic demographic information about our students and their families. We’ve also gathered data on their future plans: if they want to keep playing professionally or as a hobby, if they plan to go to college, etc. We found out that the majority of students are unable to take private lessons, and that of that group the majority are unable to take private lessons because of cost. We expect that the Jazz & Heritage Center will give us a great opportunity to both provide a space for subsidized private lessons and to help connect students to excellent teachers. We’ll continue to conduct this yearly survey to keep track of our student body and to determine their needs.

As we begin construction on the building next door, our neighbors down the street are starting a similar project. The New Orleans African American Museum is renovating four historic buildings and adding a new building to their estate. They’ll restore historic architecture that’s suffered significant storm damage. As they prepare to renovate their entire museum, we’ve been happy to welcome their staff into our own offices. Essence Edwards-Byrd is running the museum from within our building. Housing the museum staff in our office has given our organizations time to get to know each other better, both personally and professionally. On Juneteenth, the staff of the Jazz & Heritage Foundation came together with board members from the African American Museum to celebrate the anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States. Over a delicious lunch of chicken, potato salad, watermelon, and baked beans, conversation quickly turned toward collaborations. Once our construction projects are complete, we’d like to work with the museum to do a block party celebrating our shared Treme neighborhood.

Another great bonus to sharing space with the African American Museum is the wonderful artwork they have on hand. At the moment, they have no space to display the many African American artifacts and pieces of art that they own. So they’re making use of our downstairs gallery space. We’ve had two exhibits of art showcasing the breadth of talent of African American artists in New Orleans and elsewhere, and I’m sure there’s plenty of art to hold many more.

As we move through the process of major renovations, we’re learning to work with our neighbors in new ways. And while collaborations can happen across great distances, sometimes it takes sharing a space to realize just how much you share in common. We agreed to host the New Orleans African American Museum in our offices as a favor to a neighboring organization, and we’ve had the wonderful opportunity to strengthen our relationship with them as a result.

The Jazz & Heritage Gallery featuring photographs from the collection of the New Orleans African American Museum.

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