From Center to Margin: The Exhibition of Culture at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Michael Re-shon Hall
Thesis DT 3.5 2008 H3575
xii, 106 leaves: ill.; 28 cm.
This thesis examines the exhibition of black culture and music at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a world-class musical and cultural festival that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Crescent City annually and which has a very significant economic impact on the city of New Orleans. Not only is the festival significant locally, but it also has influence internationally, serving as a model for other festivals of its type. This project specifically uses Jazz Fest as a case study for exploring the exhibition of black culture and music at different venues, in this instance a location outside of the context of the museum, a music festival situated in an urban tourist network.
As a scholarly pursuit, this project is interdisciplinary in its conception and is framed by several questions. What are the key issues that should be considered when an institution decides to exhibit a culture? Who should benefit and who actually does benefit from the exhibition of culture? How does site specificity (e.g. an urban tourist city) factor into the prominent concerns that arise and how does it shape the way in which culture is presented and perceived? How do spatial and cultural politics play themselves out in a created space where pedestrian performance bears much significance? What are the tensions that arise when a developing institution seeks to further grow and capitalize from the exhibition of something as sensitive as culture and heritage? In an effort to deal with many of these questions, this thesis considers the complex matrix of race, class and space as a framework for analyzing cultural exhibition as well as the subjectivity and position both of the tourist as outsider and the local community, examining motivations and performance to arrive at a better understanding of the strained relationship between local culture and the tourist-cultural consumer.
This study proposes that at a venue like Jazz Fest, that largely exhibits black culture and music and is situated in a city both comprised to a great degree of impoverished black Americans as well as heavily marketed for the purpose of tourism, tensions arise not only locally, along lines of class and race, but also on the (inter)national stage along lines of locals vs. outsiders. Ultimately, the project demonstrates how the culture which served as the foundation and formed the nucleus of the Jazz & Heritage Festival has been marginalized, pushed from center to the periphery, in the quest for greater profits. Arriving at this conclusion the project also considers the marginalization of culture at Jazz Fest as a localized manifestation of the broader situation of culture in the Crescent City.