New Orleans Essays

How do you capture the rich experiences, discussions, learning, and reflections inspired by Detroit, Appalachia, and New Orleans and that are all part of MicroFest USA?  Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, is pleased to be partnering with NET to help with the somewhat daunting task of documenting MicroFest: USA. For each festival, we are engaging two individuals, one who is of the host community or region, and another from outside, to write about their experiences.  They may be artists, activists, journalists, planners, scholars, or other.  Each writer is capturing not only the stories and dialogue, but encouraged to bring his or her unique local and national perspective, knowledge, experiences, and point of view to the task and to add to the discourse.

In addition, from his deep experience in place-based theater, Gerard (Jerry) Stropnicky, director, writer, actor, and co-founder of the Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET), will offer two essays.  He provides a through-line to all three MicroFests, taking a focused look at the role of theater and “ensemble” practice in creative placemaking.

As these essays roll out with each MicroFest and as they’re assembled at the end of MicroFest USA, we hope they deepen understanding of the roles of theater, ensemble practice, and interdisciplinary arts and cultural endeavors as vital partners with other sectors to revitalize, renew, and reconnect communities.

We invite you to explore MicroFest: New Orleans through these essays by Carol Bebelle, Jerry Stropnicky, and Caron Atlas.  Here’s are brief snapshots and links.

You can also check out the essays from MicroFest: Detroit by Eddie Allen and Michael Premo;  and MicroFest: Appalachia through essays by Mark W. Kidd and Erik Takeshita.


MicroFest:  Artists Spotlighting the World As It Is and the World As It Should/Could Be
By Carol Bebelle (Click on the title to download the entire article.)

In the context of chronic issues such as poverty and prisons and in the aftermath of the “Katrina-related federal flood,” Carol Bebelle attributes New Orleans’ distinctive creative impulse as essential to the city’s recovery and resurrection. Bebelle traces a continuity of theater practice in New Orleans that is conscious and intentional in its storytelling and gives agency to promote personal redemption and social justice—from Junebug Productions’ work on issues of race and class, to the work of ArtSpot Productions in Louisiana prisons.  She also notes a continuity of cultural activism demonstrated by artists’ attention to environmental racism including: Mel Chin’s Fundred project and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s ongoing Art-to-Action strategies with communities along New Orleans’ industrial Cancer Alley.  Bebelle sees there is still work to be done to get artists and culture bearers regularly working deeper inside systems, such as Kids Rethink New Orleans which melds the creative practice of Theatre of the Oppressed with a youth development approach to increase the capacity of public schools to serve students better. Bebelle asks artists and culture-bearers hard questions: Can we honor the values of community—whatever they are? Can we be good partners even when we believe we know better than “they” do?  How committed are we to continuity?  How do we make space in the evolution of our work for the giants upon whose shoulders we stand?

Art and Community Development—New Orleans Style
By Erik Takeshita (Click on the  title to download the entire article.)

In his essay, Erik Takeshita, Program Officer for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in the Twin Cities, explores the experience of MicroFest: New Orleans and observes that art requires four characteristics to have a positive, sustainable impact on community: Residents and communities are the agents of change, not the targets of change….Art is at the center….Place matters….Art works across sectors and is collaborative.  Based on a panel held in the St. Claude neighborhood, he examines common issues in community development: the role of race in community development, the unintended consequences of reinvestment in neighborhoods, and the edge between differing narratives of a community. Takeshita also explores the complicated dynamics around the influx of newcomers, returnees, and transplants, including artists, to the city since Hurricane Katrina.  Through brief and engaging stories from MicroFest, Takeshita discusses some of the arts experiences that showed the power of art and cultural tradition to impact community: the Music Box, Queen Cherice of the Guardians of the Flame, and particularly Ashé Cultural Arts Center, whose “mission embodies the best in arts-based community development.”

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