Thursday, Feb 1, 2007
SUPERINTENDENTâS JAZZ NOTES
There have been numerous requests for a report on where New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park is headed in this new year and beyond. I am pleased to oblige, but first I am compelled to report on where we have been. Much has transpired since I posted the Superintendentâs Katrina Message in early September of 2005. Following the storm, I do recall we proudly re-opened the visitor center in mid-November, bringing local musicians back to our stage as promised, regardless of whether any visitors were present, no matter how somber the surrounds. And, we held a grand community welcome-back party in December 2005. It resembled a family reunion, in that experiences endured bonded us more so than we might have imagined.
Early in 2006, we started expanding our interpretive performances by hiring local musicians several days a week, thanks to financial assistance from the New Orleans Musicianâs Clinic. Our Oral History program continues with grant assistance, the support of the Jazz Commission, and the enthusiasm of the volunteers. The Director of the National Park Service visited in April, presenting Presidential Take Pride in America Lifetime Achievement Awards to two of our volunteers. We again hosted the Childrenâs Stage at the Satchmo Summerfest and the Jazz International Colloquium. We are conducting a âMusic for All Agesâ program with much success, bringing K-12 students together with intergenerational volunteers/mentors to foster jazz music and traditions. This effort is possible thanks to grant funding through the National Park Service Foundationâs African American Experience Fund. We are one of only seventeen national parks recognized as most opportune for sharing exemplary African American elements, stories, and histories. Partnership ties were rekindled with the Washington D.C. based Traditional Jazz Educators Network, now providing a free instructional Jazz DVD and curriculum packet to music teachers nationwide upon request. Funding has been secured, and planning is underway, to provide a downloadable, pod cast/cell phone, self-guided tour of local jazz sites. As additional funding is secured, our long-range interpretive plan calls for interactive-media exhibits, and educational research areas within the Jazz Complex, as directed through the General Management Plan and Congress. Finally, and arguably most importantly, we held a well-attended groundbreaking ceremony and second-line parade launching our Armstrong Park relocation project. This brings us back to the original question: Where we are headed?
Perseverance Hall (circa 1820) is the crown jewel of the Jazz Complex, a courtyard quadrant of historic buildings located within the Cityâs Louis Armstrong Memorial Park. The Jazz Complex is leased by the National Park Service for up to 99 years (renewable) for the purpose of providing a permanent home for New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. Our current relocation project is rehabilitating the first floor of Perseverance Hall and the grounds of the Jazz Complex. In summer of 2007, our permanent home will be habitable. At that time we will establish a National Park Ranger educational presence in Armstrong Park, and begin the transition of our visitor center performance venue now temporarily housed in the French Market. The timeliness and ultimate success of this transition depends on several simultaneous courses of action.
First, there is a collaborative movement underway to assist the City of New Orleans in expediting the FEMA-reimbursable funding process, and other actions necessary to re-open the heavily storm-damaged city portion of Armstrong Park. The park needs to open as soon as possible, even as repairs are ongoing.
Second, the commitment of National Park Service staff to bring Armstrong Park alive with educational activities and performances must be embraced by neighboring businesses and civic groups. The active presence of National Park staff will be the cornerstone and catalyst for the revitalization of the larger city-operated Armstrong Park, the neighboring communities and businesses. The tentacles of these efforts will reach out to all the neighborhoods of New Orleans, preserving traditions and encouraging participation, as we work together to restore the cultural fabric of this area so rich in Jazz foundation and tradition.
Finally, Armstrong Park must be safe. Bringing the open space alive with people and programs is a solid start, but there must be a solid commitment from the New Orleans Police Department to provide community-oriented policing, and a reciprocal commitment from neighbors and merchants to provide neighborhood watch, and park watch organizations. A concentrated volunteer effort adopting Armstrong Park is absolutely necessary.
Parks are refuges vital to our physical, mental and spiritual well being, but they are not islands. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park staff cannot undertake this journey alone. Katrina dealt us all an unwanted hardship, but in the aftermath we discovered the bonding network needed to succeed. The second-line parade we held last fall was simply a drill. For those who participated, the real journey has just begun. We hope all of you reading this will join our march, actively on the beat, or supportively off the beat.
John Quirk Superintendent New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park