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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Viva New Orleans—for Art’s Sake!


One of the happy (re)discoveries at the Rising Tide 2 conference of Katrina bloggers this past weekend was the New Orleanians’ sheer vitality, creativity, and ingenuity—their will to survive, to renew, to make the city better than it was before. We came away reinvigorated, reassured that in at least one American city democracy and citizen activism are alive and well. (If you keep busy, it doesn’t hurt quite as bad—and anyway, struggling for your very survival has a way of concentrating the mind.) In part because some public officials are lame and passive, and others are working but overwhelmed and underfunded, gutsy determined citizens are taking into their own hands the work of rebuilding, forming civic associations, alerting fellow citizens about opportunities and dangers (potential funding, criminal activity on the streets or in City Hall), etc.

And this vitality—this will to live, and to live better—made us realize that of all the reasons given for why New Orleans should be helped in its recovery, one that we’ve never heard mentioned (though it should be obvious) is the sheer creativity of the people in this city: the writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, ceramicists and glass-blowers, gallery proprietors, booksellers, and all the ordinary citizens who so naturally invent whimsical Mardi Gras costumes and masks and floats and occasions for parties and so on. New Orleans not only breeds talented musicians and writers, etc., from its own rich soil and dirty river water and humid air, but it also attracts creative types who thrive in the city’s relatively tolerant society and inexpensive economy and lively calendars of festivals, readings, concerts, parades, gallery openings, jazz funerals, lectures, etc. (This hints at why New Orleans has been called not just a city but a civilization.)

So, in addition to all the other familiar reasons why the Crescent City warrants help in rebuilding—such as its seafood, the port, oil and gas, tourism, cuisine, and the rich musical heritage—America needs a healthy and happy New Orleans for the sake of its own cultural vitality, too. Now, we don’t expect this argument to make a deep impression on everyone, but for those who understand, for those who need art and joie de vivre like most people need a good meal, just think about what could be lost if New Orleans is neglected. Think of what has already been lost.


For a lively, passionate, book-length portrait of New Orleans’s cultural richness and importance, see Tom Piazza’s Why New Orleans Matters (2005).


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