New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Center

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc.

Funding Received: 2012
New Orleans, LA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
August 17, 2012

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation is renovating the building next to its headquarters into a music education campus, community center, and performance hall. The new facility – soon to be the “Jazz & Heritage Center” – will host the Foundation’s Don “Moose” Jamison Heritage School of Music, a free music program for students between the ages of 11 and 18. Renovation plans include seven classrooms – which, conveniently, correspond to the seven instrument areas taught at the Heritage School. There will be a 200-seat concert hall built from the ground up in the rear half of the Center. When not in use by students as a practice and performance space, the hall will open up to the many cultural presenters that call New Orleans home. The Jazz & Heritage Foundation will offer a year-round schedule of events – from traditional jazz concerts to Mardi Gras Indian performances to lectures on the cultural history of the city – in the hall. The community center portion of the Jazz & Heritage Center will provide a space for programing that responds directly to the needs of the surrounding community.

ArtPlace spoke with Scott Aiges, Program Director for the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, about the project.

ArtPlace: What do you have to do really (really) well to achieve success with your initiative?

Aiges: It’s a multi-part project, so it’s hard to pinpoint just one thing that we have to get right to achieve success. We have to get a lot right. Luckily, we’ve been doing this for a while and we already have a head start on about 70% of the programming that’s going to take place in the center. We’re in our third decade of running the Heritage School of Music, and we’ve improved the program in the last two years based on what we learned in the first 20 or so of its existence. We have a completely new curriculum, something called the root progression method. It was developed right here in the city by our own Alvin Batiste, an extremely accomplished clarinetist and early pioneer of experimental jazz. We’re excited to teach this method to more than 200 students annually, which is where we expect enrollment to be once the school has opened and reached capacity.

We’re also comfortable programming live events. Our Jazz Journey concerts and Congo Square lectures are regular features in the city’s cultural calendar so we know we can find good talent and get people to show up.

Our biggest challenge – the thing we need to do really well to achieve success – is incorporating community feedback into the remaining 30% of programming, what we’re calling the “community center” portion of the building. We want to be sure we’re creating the most useful space for our creative community without being redundant. There are a lot of great non-profits across the city and there’s no need to compete with them. We’ve identified a number of possible collaborations with like-minded groups, now it’s just a matter of narrowing our focus. Since members of a community are best at determining their own needs, we’re incorporating them in the planning process through regular meetings. There are certain highly connected individuals who have stepped forward as community leaders and we’re making sure to include them and their feedback in our plans. It’s been a long, slow process – the building was purchased in 2008 after all – but we’re sure that the constant communication is necessary to plan the best possible project.

ArtPlace: How do you expect the community to change as a result?

Aiges: We hope that if we can create a space for collaboration – something we’ve already started to do through our planning meetings – we’ll be achieving something important before we even begin construction. We’re talking with the people at the Artspace Bell School project about working together to enhance our impact on the area, so things are already happening. We believe that if we approach this project with collaboration and communication in mind, we can avoid a lot of extra work. We are not the only ones to benefit from collaborative planning – we know that others are getting ideas, building relationships, and refining their own programming. To that end, we are hosting a Congo Square symposium in November titled “Faubourg Tremé: A New Crossroads.” The symposium will invite historians, government officials, real estate developers and urban planners to speak about the rapidly changing Tremé neighborhood and how the area’s past can inform future developments. A high-level official from the Department of Housing and Urban Development is already confirmed to speak. It will be a resource for us and for other organizations in our neighborhood of the Tremé.