- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A mayoral arts commission has recommended tackling a long-standing complaint as the city rebuilds: New Orleans has done a miserable job in promoting itself as the birthplace of jazz, the quintessential American form of art.

Many important buildings in jazz history have fallen into disrepair or tumbled. Even the home of Louis Armstrong was allowed to be demolished, and other old brick buildings with ties to jazz greats are largely in a state of neglect and are not identified with signs for tourists.

“In Vienna every place Beethoven looked at, it’s marked by something,” said jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the co-chairman of the commission’s cultural committee.

The commission last week recommended building a National Jazz Center, which would be a museum, performance hall, recording studio and archive rolled into one. It also called for creating new artistic districts, increasing the teaching of arts in schools and setting aside 2 percent of eligible capital bonds for public sculptures, murals and other artwork.

The ideas are part of a broad rebuilding plan being rolled out by the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, a panel appointed by Mayor C. Ray Nagin after Hurricane Katrina. The panel has called for actions including abandoning some residential neighborhoods and overhauling schools and city government.

The report says the most immediate concern is recovering from Katrina. The storm’s flooding and wind hit musicians, community theaters, dance studios, artists, night clubs, second-line bands and Mardi Gras Indian tribes particularly hard.

“We’re not going to sit here and pretend that what we’re doing is more important than levees, but we all know that without its culture, New Orleans isn’t New Orleans,” said Cesar Burgos, chairman of the cultural committee.

An estimated 11,000 people working in the cultural sector have lost their jobs and the ranks of musicians are down from more than 2,500 before Katrina to about 250. Uninsured damages to the cultural sector are estimated at $80 million, according to the report.

“We’re still not open because we don’t have the musicians,” said Deborah Guidry, an assistant manager at Preservation Hall, the French Quarter jazz mecca.

But Jason Berry, a New Orleans writer and jazz historian, questioned building a major museum dedicated only to music. He champions a museum in honor of the entire city, especially if many neighborhoods are razed. He also worries about repopulating New Orleans.

“Poor people made the culture of this city from the ground up and they are the ones who have been displaced,” Mr. Berry said. “The report begs the question: How do we get those people back?”

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