Mayor Cantrell, show us that you understand the importance of the sacred land. Transform the Municipal Auditorium into a cultural use.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s proposal to transform the Morris FX Jeff municipal auditorium into a new city hall has proven to be a galvanizing force. Unfortunately for the mayor, the various groups and individuals who raised their voices to comment on his idea were united in their absolute and well-founded opposition.
The mayor and his allies have argued that the current town hall is in poor condition and is too small to accommodate all functions of government. They also said the city must act quickly to reallocate the auditorium or risk losing $ 38 million in FEMA funding to repair damage to the building as a result of federal levees failing in the hurricane. Katrina. The federal funding offer expires in 2023.
The mayor’s initial proposal was sorely lacking in a basic understanding of the importance of the auditorium and the sacred grounds on which it stands. Most famous, Congo Square was one of the few treasured places where African Americans could congregate and maintain their musical, religious, and cultural traditions during slavery. Even now, it remains the spiritual hub of Blacks in New Orleans, hosting festivals, musical performances, and freedom celebrations.
The auditorium is also surrounded by Louis Armstrong Park, a lipstick on a pig designed after the fact by Mayor Moon Landrieu to reduce the impact on the Treme neighborhood of a disaster caused by Mayors Chep Morrison and Victor Schiro. They razed dozens of homes and businesses in hopes of creating a Lincoln Center-style cultural hub that never materialized.
Treme, long one of the city’s liveliest areas to live in, is increasingly plagued by increased traffic and parking issues that would only be made worse by the mayor’s plan. Further, like Schiro and Morrison, Cantrell demanded that the Treme suburb sacrifice its land and character for the greater good of the city. While you might think the city would benefit from relocating City Hall, there’s not much good in the plan for Treme taxpayers.
The mayor opened the door to a discussion of other possible uses for the 1930s facility and I would like to accept his invitation. I think the auditorium, which is about 325,000 square feet, should become a cultural complex and house three unique New Orleans cultural institutions, each needing the type of home the auditorium could provide.
In 1999, the state legislature passed a bill to establish the Louisiana Civil Rights Museum and mandate its construction in New Orleans. But over the next 20 years, the state did not even select a site for the museum, let alone provide adequate funding.
The African American Museum of New Orleans, located on Governor Nicholls Street in Treme, was established under the administration of Mayor Marc Morial in hopes of turning a crumbling Creole mansion into a museum and hub for economic development . But the 1820s residence, for all its beauty, was never a perfect building for housing a museum. A move to a more commercial building could help remedy any installation imperfections. (Full disclosure: I sit on the National Advisory Board for the African American Museum of New Orleans, but I am now writing in a personal capacity. The museum board did not approve the idea of moving to the New Orleans. auditorium site.)
For a few years now, actor and writer Harry Shearer had the idea for a National Slavery Museum to be located in New Orleans, the site of one of the country’s largest slave markets. . As our city owes much of its wealth and culture to the slave trade, our city would be the ideal home for such a settlement.
The Cantrell administration’s estimate that moving the city hall to Congo Square would require more than $ 100 million, meaning it would require a significant investment from the city in addition to the $ 38 million of federal money. Investing that money in this type of museum complex would be an unprecedented statement on the primacy of African-American contributions to the economy and identity of New Orleans.
The mayor’s proposal to desecrate Congo Square has already damaged his reputation so much that hundreds of New Orleans have risen up against his plan. Turning the tide and creating a place for institutions that would honor the legacy of the Place du Congo could go as far as restoring confidence that the mayor understands the importance of this sacred ground.
Lolis Eric Elie is a New Orleans-born, Los Angeles-based writer, journalist, documentary filmmaker, and food historian best known for his work as editor of the HBO drama Treme and editor of Hell on Wheels. from AMC. He is a former Times-Picayune columnist and a contributing writer for The Oxford American. His work has appeared in Gourmet, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Downbeat, and The San Francisco Chronicle. Lolis is the author of “Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country” and co-producer and screenwriter of “Smokestack Lightning: A Day in the Life of Barbecue”, a documentary based on her book. He is editor-in-chief of “Cornbread Nation 2: The Best of Southern Food Writing”. He is a member of the board of directors of The Lens.
The Opinion section is a community forum. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To come up with an idea for a column, contact Opinion Writer Amy Stelly at [email protected]