Thursday, August 27, 2015

It's time to retire the phrase "culture bearer"

Second lining
Uptown second line. December 18, 2005.  Grainy flip phone photo. This was the first second line I saw after Katrina.  For all I know it was the first post-storm parade period. 

"Culture Bearer" is meaningless wording that suggests we're thinking of people as tourist attractions first and citizens separately. Pigeonholing people like this creates arbitrary divisions, misapprehends the value of neighborhoods and takes away their power. It's one reason the "Musicians' Village" project always seemed strange to me.

 Would the city even care about displacement if it wasn't related to tourism?
The changing demographics that come with a real estate boom raise questions about the future of the city's cultural identity. What happens when the next Danny Barker passes away? Will the band have to be bussed in from eastern New Orleans or another community miles from the historic neighborhoods and cemeteries that gave birth to the jazz funeral tradition?

Will tourists still flock if the culture begins to feel manufactured rather than authentic? In a region where tourism employs about 40,000 people, the answer to those questions is more than academic.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration says it recognizes that displacement caused by rising housing costs presents a problem and points to a variety of efforts it has undertaken to address the issue, for those it identifies as culture bearers and for residents in general.

Besides that, the term itself betrays the very essence of participatory street culture.  Folk art and music are created by specific individuals. But they have meaning because the are inspired by and tell the story of.. well, the folk.  Everyone in your neighborhood is a "culture bearer" there. Why even make the distinction?

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