NOLAmotion Blog

June 13, 2010

Louisiana Music Commission to be Euthanized

Heartbeat of the LMC from 2005 to Present

After 4 years of lifeless existence under the direction of Chairwoman Maggie Warwick, the Louisiana Music Commission (LMC) is finally being put out of its misery. As reported in newspapers a few weeks ago, after July 1 the LMC will disappear. The articles quoted Ms. Warwick as saying she “supports eliminating it.” That’s like quoting Nero during the burning of Rome.

I would like to congratulate Ms. Warwick for her vision and talent in destroying the state’s (and nation’s) first agency dedicated exclusively to music. And thanks also to Lynn Ourso, the ostensible “director” of the LMC for directing it right into oblivion.

Though there were 15+ people appointed to serve on the LMC over the past 4 years, evidently none of them had the ability or power to grasp the controls and pull the LMC out of the dive it entered when it was eviscerated by (convicted and jailed former film office director) Mark Smith, then relocated and de-funded during the Blanco years (with the assistance of former Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development Mike Olivier). To those members who tried, really tried to represent the best interests of musicians, I say thank you. To those who colluded with and bought-in to the tired and ineffective leadership of Ms. Warwick and Mr. Ourso–and you know who you are–I say that the proof is in the pudding. And yours turned out to be a runny, smelly failure.

Since 2006, when they finally wrested control of the remnants of the LMC that had been systematically weakened by their team, observing the Warwick-Ourso tenure was like watching an elderly nursing home patient slowly, painfully gasp for breath–for month after month after month. It was a pathetic and absurd situation. And now it’s finally over.

The coroner has declared the patient dead but did not cite the cause. I say it was starvation, deprivation, and neglect compounded by malpractice and out-of-touch stewardship. And there will be no investigations, no funeral, no accurate recapitulation or memorial. This will likely be my last blog on that subject. And for that, I’m sure some will be grateful.

I’m proud of the work Ellis Marsalis, Bernie Cyrus and I did, but we were far from alone. From 1992 to 2006 literally hundreds of people helped us achieve unprecedented levels of support for Louisiana music. Because of our work, thousands of Louisiana musicians appeared on radio and television; tens of thousands of elementary school students statewide experienced living jazz history lessons; sites were saved (though many were lost); and attention to the health and welfare of working musicians was raised to new levels not surpassed until the tragedies of the failed levees of Katrina. You can read about what we did here: LMC Summary Report 1992-2003.

The LMC is dead. And though I spent 25+ years in music, it was always with a focus on environmental and social justice issues, on reducing our impact and helping the needy. Today, that’s what I do full time. I love music. I hope to play again some day. But I have a great job and a mission to bring positive change to the way we live. I am blessed to be where I am today.

Music is vital to our quality of life in Louisiana. Perhaps one day it will benefit from dedicated resources and support equal to what we give other industries such as agriculture, petrochemicals and film. One day. But not today.

April 2, 2010

Louisiana Tax Structure Fails Our Education Systems and Threatens Our Economic Future

The repeal of the Stelly Plan that removed certain sales taxes on food and other items and created a more balanced income tax structure is causing a much-predicted crisis in Louisiana. We are facing the worst funding shortage in memory. And cuts announced this week to higher education are going to devastate our universities.

When the Stelly Plan, which voters approved, was ceremoniously repealed, we ended up with two tax cuts. And these cuts are not stimulating our economy, they are causing layoffs, higher tuition and myriad problems that will harm the reputation of Louisiana and that threaten our economic future.

When the Stelly Plan was repealed, we didn’t return to the status quo–we just gave a tax cut to the upper brackets and didn’t replace the funds from the removal of the sales taxes.

Stelly was a fair plan. The sales taxes that hurt poor and middle class residents were lightened and we all paid a few dollars more (at least those of us at average income levels, in my case it added less than $100) in income tax. It worked. Now we’re in a pickle. And it’s not even because of some lousy Friedman-esque economic theory–it’s because of political grandstanding and misrepresentation of how taxes work.

Those who want Louisiana to prosper, to have a solid education system, to have better roads, safe and secure drinking water, fair and honest police, fire and emergency service systems, courts that dispense justice and are able to put people in facilities that securely and effectively incarcerate without breeding more crime (or being complete hellholes where you may die within hours whether guilty or not) must pay for these things. That’s what taxes are for. And with federal prosecutors hot on the tails of corruption (thanks in no small way to the fact that all contracts now end up on computers and leave multiple electronic trails), things ARE changing for the better.

But we have to demand vision and leadership from our elected officials, not platitudes and phony political philosophy. And we have to do our parts to participate, to go to meetings, to be watchdogs, to volunteer to help our city halls and parish services, and to vote.

These problems are not going to be solved by name-calling rallies or by shouting down political discourse when our elected officials have public meetings or by calling fellow citizens socialists because we disagree with them. Democracy is hard work. And we in New Orleans have gotten better at it than most of the country. But now we need the rest of Louisiana, the average citizens (not just business and political leaders), to get on the ball and participate.

It took a massive (and man-made) disaster to make us in NOLA get involved. Is that what it’s going to take for the rest of the state to get with it?

January 27, 2010

Thoughts on the LSU hospital plans

Now that the issue (fill in the blank based on your views/knowledge: is, appears to be, might be, might never be) settled, it’s time to discuss what will happen next. We need to focus on better building techniques, sustainability and resource management. The demolition of buildings needs to be well managed. We must recycle as much of the irreplaceable old-growth lumber and components as possible. There should be a consortium of all the city’s materials recycling entities to handle this. NOLARecycles and the Green Collaborative represent collective efforts and can be tapped for expertise.

There will be lead paint issues, asbestos issues. But we have an enormous opportunity to set new examples of Best Practices in recycling and re-use, and that means economic development. Now is the time for leaders of the Biosciences District to seek assistance from area green organizations and leadership. I can see several sites processing these materials and the possibility of reinvigorating our rebuilding resource organizations with this effort.

A huge concern of this project is water management. Stormwater runoff from this site will be copious. There are many in this area who are well-versed in sustainable development techniques. We must make this site a shining example that exceeds anything ever built in New Orleans when it comes to water systems and ecological footprint. The development team needs to delve deeply into Low Impact Development principles, Regenerative Design techniques and Biomimicry concepts. These should be Living Buildings where healing takes place with the assistance of Nature. And they need to be leading examples of resilience and mitigation. We can make the hospitals state of the art in more than just medicine, but also in how to build in our hot, humid, windy environment and for our soil types.

There’s no doubt this project can be measured in both dollars and lives. There’s no doubt Charity Hospital was prevented from opening in the months after the flood by those seeking to build the new hospital. We can (and probably will) debate this issue for decades; because, for too many, the cost was measured in the loss of loved ones like Cayne Miceli. And there is no doubt that far too many of those lives were lost due to a plethora of failures that reach their nadir in the mismanagement and brutality of the operations of Orleans Parish Prison. Unfortunately for us, today’s funding decision changes nothing about life in New Orleans in that regard until both the hospital and new jail are completed, years from now.

So I say it’s time for us to come together and make these entities the best they can be. There will be opportunities for involvement, for cooperation and compromise in the coming days. I intend to do my part, and hope that everyone who worked so hard on both sides will do theirs, to ensure that these projects make New Orleans stronger and become the kind of assets that will improve our lives and economy.

Let’s not settle for the same kind of management, design and construction practices of the past. As yesterday’s Green Collaborative Platform for Candidates proposes, we know how to grow the economy of New Orleans. These hospitals need to be catalysts for green/sustainable development. It’s time to step up, demand the best and build our future.

November 5, 2009

City Park: Green Fills the Holes in The Great Concrete and Roosevelt Mall Smells Like Money

Non-native plants ready to plugged into the waiting holes of the hand laid brick and concrete holes in the nearly finished Great Lawn.

Non-native plants ready to be plugged into the hand-laid brick and concrete holes in the nearly finished Great Lawn.

This week an 18 wheeler delivered a truckload of plants for the final stages of The Great Concrete Lawn in City Park. This multi-million dollar project sure provided a lot of money and work. That’s economic development. And that truckload of plants sure helped keep people employed—in Florida!

As the photo shows, a truckload of non-native species plants was delivered from a company with locations in Wisconsin and Florida. Cashio Cochran LLC, whose designs have disguised, smothered and killed the native landscape of City Park for the past couple of decades, ensured their role in history as perhaps the most un-enlightened park designers of the past half century with this last implantation of imported plant life.

Economic development in City Park for an out of state plant provider.

Economic development in City Park...for an out of state plant provider.

But all is not lost…..yet. After this past week’s debacle of destruction, the Voodoo Music Experience (VME), tore up the soil under some of the most beautiful and fragile oaks in the park, we at least can look forward to when these non-native palms, ginger and other decorative plants blossom and bloom and hide those ugly old oaks that obviously were in the way of Cashio Cochran’s Eisenhower Era vision of tidy design.

IMG_1284

City Park brings friends together for the production of the Voodoo Music Experience. Rehage and Torres treat the park like, well, like what goes in that portabe potty.

What a year it’s been in City Park! Though I’ve only been blogging about it since March, we’ve seen bad decisions multiply like invasive species. The ironies pile up, too. The post-VME smell on Roosevelt Mall, despite the preponderance of familiar bull horns on the portable toilets, isn’t the aroma of the past couple of years in the French Quarter, but that of Bourbon Street of years gone by–a sour, sickly smell that this week’s blooming Sweet Olives can’t disguise. The damage, the smell, the bad design, the out of state plants, the heavy equipment crushing soil and roots, I guess it all smells like money to somebody. Or else we’d be hearing more than just me moaning and griping.

That copper roof will turn a nice shade of green. You  think the designers planned for that to match the tree?

That copper roof will turn a nice shade of green. You think the designers planned for that to match the tree?

But, I guess I’m lucky. Unlike the those ever-more scraggly old oaks, I get to go home and put those smells and sights out of my mind whenever I want. And I have to assume that the folks who work there find all this quite normal since it keeps happening again and again and again and again and again…………..

Cashio Cochran's big flourish--a palm in front of a pyramid hat building in front of an ancient live oak. Bam!

Cashio Cochran's big flourish--a palm in front of a pyramid hat building in front of an ancient live oak. BAM!

July 22, 2009

State of Louisiana Continues to Fail to Support Music

dunce-cap

LMC Executive Director Ponders What Went Wrong

Ok, it’s time for me to re-visit a festering splinter. I apologize to readers who are bored with this subject. But here goes….

The basically non-existent Louisiana Music Commission (LMC), operating as a very minor component of Louisiana Economic Development (LED), continues to fail miserably at it’s mission “to promote and develop the popular, commercial music industry” in Louisiana (as per LA R.S. 25:315-317).

Under the administrations of two governors and two different leaders at LED, the state tossed 14 years of leadership by the impeccable and experienced Ellis L. Marsalis Jr.,  and the LMC was eviscerated. In 2006 they disposed of all the office computers and data, failed to maintain and renew the agency’s 8 years of web presence via louisianamusic.org and buylouisianamusic.com (and lost the URLs) and reinvented the LMC as a do-nothing entity–still with no website–that occasionally holds meetings and apparently produces nothing in the way of action.

Of course there’s no budget specifically for music; and, with the state obsessed with Hollywood, chicken plants and sports, it’s no surprise that music continues to suffer.

As one of Louisiana’s signature natural assets–and one of the few industries here that continues to influence the world–this failure: to lead, to market, to support, and to recognize the importance of this irreplaceable and immeasurably valuable citizen-resource, is inexcusable.

The latest attempt to quantify Louisiana’s music resources reveals the depth of misunderstanding by economic development staffers, and represents another squandering of money on out of state “experts” who gather readily available data and then call it a study. Economics Research Associates in February released a state-funded report (anyone know the cost?) on Louisiana’s entertainment industry. It is a very revealing and, regarding music, deeply flawed document.

The music section begins with a lengthy overview (5 pages of 11) of the music industry using data readily available to anyone (even the LMC’s current director). The report then uses federal labor statistics and other industrial data to surmise that Louisiana’s business of music ranks well below 30+ other states, a patently ridiculous conclusion. And it is obvious that ERA did not fully understand, nor seek to document, the many facets of Louisiana’s unique music landscape.

What’s truly sad is that were the LMC fully funded and staffed with imaginative people, this study could’ve produced something worthwhile.

Back when we worked to gather this information, we used a combination of resources, including tourism data, staff researchers at LED, the Louisiana Music Directory and more. Since much of tourism is generated by music, that industry’s ups and downs are directly tied to music’s economic impact and contributed to our studies–this component was analyzed, by the way, by LED’s own highly qualified research staff. And, the only proper study ever done–by Dr. Tim Ryan of the University of New Orleans in the late 1980s–was not conducted by an out of state entity.

To continue to believe that only companies based out of state are capable of telling us who we are is a lingering problem in Baton Rouge and at LED.

The experts we need to help us analyze our music resources are readily available here in Louisiana. Utilizing this talent keeps money flowing between state government and higher education, helping to grow a new crop of experts and future businesspeople. In other words, it’s ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT to first use your university resources to conduct studies.

Louisiana Economic Development fails at its mission when it fails to utilize readily available in-state resources within universities, nonprofits and businesses.

But I digress. When Ellis Marsalis, Bernie Cyrus and I were in charge of the LMC, we produced many reports on the state’s music industry. We posted these reports on the web for all to see. We distributed this information to the Office of the Governor and the Louisiana Legislature. And we determined that music’s impact on Louisiana was in the range of nearly $3 billion! Yet according to ERA, film is bigger than music in Louisiana. Really?

Of course Louisiana is spending more than $115,000,000 in cash money as tax credits to buy the friendship of the film industry here. And that money is giving lots of people work, many people from here–including some of my friends–and who knows how many from out of state. The data and the state’s “experts” have not quantified exactly how much of that money and those jobs stay in Louisiana.

But back to music, for that is our world renown, immeasurably valuable, historically significant, naturally occurring and most neglected asset. At a time when it is obvious that the recording industry is the component in the worst free-fall, both the state and ERA focused on the sound recording  business as a measure, and as the only recipient of a little-used tax credit system.

Having done some of the earliest research of the state’s recording industry when this tax system was proposed–and kept out of the final drafts by a few nefarious folks, one of whom is headed to the pokey–I strongly believe that the current tax credit system is not what is truly needed. In my research–which involved me calling studio owners and asking them what their biggest problems were and what they though the state could do–I learned that studios sought sales tax relief and felt that the budget-oriented credits would both be little-used and have little effect.

ERA’s data certainly proves the little-used aspect, as only a handfull of projects have tapped into the credits. Of course the lack of staff at the LMC to process these credits is also partly to blame. But, as national data and the ERA report indicate–and anyone in the studio and music business can tell you for free–the recording industry is not doing well. Nevertheless, that segment is the focus of the state and of ERA.

The only apparent good news in the report is that music credits do better than film in the report’s cost-benefit analysis, supposedly generating $6.78 for every dollar in tax credits compared to $6.64 for film. However, since only $340,000 in spending was tallied for credits, the data says only a couple of jobs were generated. The study also notes that in 2008, $816,800 in productions applied for nearly $204,000 in credits. It’s encouraging to see the numbers rising. But it’s also frustrating to see the emphasis be only on this one aspect of the business. As a musician, I liken this approach to giving the cotton companies a tax credit during the waning days of slavery. What does this credit do for the musicians who are truly Louisiana’s musical gold?

Admittedly a few musicians have been hired to work on subsidized projects. And I don’t want to disparage the intention behind trying to support our vitally important recording studios, they need all the help they can get. But it’s almost like we’re subsidizing buggy manufacturers after the automobile was introduced. And studios, like every other aspect of music, won’t survive if musicians aren’t thriving.

Live music, which we determined in previous LMC reports has a multibillion dollar economic impact statewide, is given one short paragraph in the study–with no economic impact numbers. There are no inputs, no data, no charts, no information on taxes generated or jobs created in this live music paragraph.

Then the music aspect of the report ends. A total of 11 pages in a 90 page report.

There is no doubt that this report provides valuable data for state leaders. The study presents a very informative review of film incentives nationally. This will help people understand the landscape of film and media industry tax credits. And I’m sure this was the intent of all concerned in producing and funding this report. But, music is much bigger than this study says.

Louisiana music is a brand, unlike every other component of the report. And that brand has a worldwide value and recognition factor that needs to be tallied and supported.

The failure of the State of Louisiana–whether it is Louisiana Economic Development and/or the Lt. Governor’s Office of Tourism–to fully understand and support our vital music resources, is one of the great tragedies of mismanagement in the history of this state.

The power of our musical genres, of our music history and of our musical stars has never been fully or properly understood, valued, promoted or nurtured. What is even sadder is that everyone knows this and yet nothing substantial is done.

Were it not for the continued efforts of the many nonprofits such as Tipitina’s Foundation, the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the N.O. Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Louisiana Folkroots, WWOZ, NARAS/MusiCares the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, KRVS and many other wonderful organizations, Louisiana music would be nothing more than an afterthought, a component of our tourism advertising that presents an image of love and support that in reality does not effectively exist within the institutions producing these promotions.

We convey an image to the world that our music matters. But it’s all just smoke and mirrors. We can do better.

Sidenote: Here’s a report we generated in 2002. It’s the kind of report that covers analysis of the industry both internationally and locally and includes all our projects, accomplishments and interactions for the year. Will the current LMC ever produce anything even remotely similar?

April 1, 2009

What Louisiana Loves: How to Get Rich in the Bayou State

I’ve decided on a new career that I know will make me rich. I’m going to be a chicken plucking, film making, sports team owning, wood pulping for export, drug testing entrepreneur! Yes, that’s the key.

Since it’s increasingly obvious the state doesn’t care for its arts, music, environment, mental health or safety, I figured I’d put my thinking cap on and ponder: What does the state really support? And, voila, I got the answer!

We’re spending $114 million buying the friendship of the movie industry, we’re putting up $50 million for a chicken plant near the Arkansas border and $20 million for a chicken freezer next to the French Quarter, we’re annually handing professional sports teams dozens of millions, we’re giving tens of millions to speed up the cutting of our mixed hardwood forests for things like wood pellets to be burned for fuel in Europe and landscape mulch, and we might put our money where the piss is by drug testing 20,000 welfare recipients.

Those are the businesses in Louisiana’s future!

On the other hand, we’re doing nothing to support music, cutting the arts, still don’t fully understand how to restore our environment, are closing and cutting mental health facilities and even have a bill ready for the upcoming session that allows guns on campuses… Hey wait, I just thought of something: bulletproof vests for teachers and students!

Hell, I almost missed a big one that could pay for my second Hummer. Yeah, it’s a great time to be in Louisiana, no foolin’…IF you know what you’re doing.

April 20, 2008

Recruiting Our Way to Success?

Too many folks in economic development overemphasize recruiting. At a time when most admit that Louisiana’s greatest export is our smart, talented, innovative people, highly paid government “leaders” continue to believe they can recruit outsiders to save us.

When I was at the Louisiana Music Commission, we used to joke that to economic development people an expert was someone from out of town carrying a briefcase. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to hear what “we” all have to say. Only the “experts” seemed to know up from down. Though we tried at every opportunity to bring an appreciation for indigenous talent to economic development, and tried our best to be a part of all aspects of the department, nobody wanted to hear anything from us unless it was about music; and, all-to-often only if it involved access to backstage passes.

I recently met with an important person from Louisiana Economic Development who believed that the music director needed to be “working the phones and recruiting.” I said that Louisiana’s music industry can’t recruit its way to success–unless someone has a line on Steve Jobs. I don’t know if I made my point; but I know it’s true. Unfortunately, the folks in charge of music at the state level just don’t get it and remain overwhelmed by the demands of the film industry. Music is still being taken for granted, and the potential of the state to be helpful continues to be untapped.

Our unique music resources, it seems, are still perceived as lacking only what outsiders can bring to it. Well, as far as I (and I’m sure most musicians seeking to make a living) am concerned, the main thing outsiders can bring to our music is their appreciation and their money. And if anyone wants to move their booking or management company here, I’m sure there are incentives that can be utilized. No doubt music could use some help. But what the state is (or rather isn’t) doing is about as useful as a one person sailboat with no rudder on a landlocked pond with no wind or even a paddle.

There are no miracle workers in the music industry anymore. There are no simple solutions to the difficulties of being a musician. The era of the music moguls is long over. And legendary music mogul Clive Davis lost his job (again) this week. Blame whatever you want for the demise of the industry: downloads, supply & demand, competition from video games, all of the above. Whatever you want to call it, the international music industry has changed and the state doesn’t get it. Meanwhile, Louisiana continues to produce some of the world’s best and most interesting music.

But don’t expect the state to fix things anytime soon. Instead of building upon the more than a decade of work that Chairman Ellis Marsalis fostered, the current folks at the LMC continue on their “rebuilding” path by starting from scratch and proceeding at a snail’s pace.

I also learned that nobody at the state’s entertainment office has access to any of the voluminous paperwork we generated in our 13+ years of running the Louisiana Music Commission. The people in charge don’t even know where the ring binders are that hold the reports, plans and the printed version of the (defunct) website. So, again, here is the comprehensive report covering 1992 to 2003, a summary version (bullet text and easy to read) and our last Strategic Plan. And of course anyone can view the old website by visiting Archive.org and typing “louisianamusic.org” into the Internet Wayback Machine.

I know I’m boring some of you with this stuff. But the fact remains that you can’t just erase what we did; and, I won’t let the opinions of openly hostile, manipulative people be the only version of history. I know what I did and I know what we did. And it’s far more than anyone is doing now.

The State of Louisiana continues to neglect its responsibility to nurture our precious music legacy. Our musicians deserve better.

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