NEA Calls Arts Groups Key in Getting Gulf Coast Economies Back in Tune

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Rebuilding arts organizations -- from finding employment for the artists to replacing costumes -- is a key component to revitalizing the decimated economies of the Gulf Coast, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts said yesterday.

"People have to recognize that the arts are a major industry and need to be at the table for the recovery plan," said the NEA's Dana Gioia. "There is no way for these local economies to recover unless we invest in the cultural life. Culture was Louisiana's second-biggest economy, right after oil. These organizations have suffered enormous losses."

Over the weekend, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies met in Boise, Idaho, and developed an action plan for the devastated region. It's important to save the organizations, Gioia said, but it's also necessary to provide employment for the artists. "I can't tell you how many musicians have lost their instruments," Gioia said.

For Gioia, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has underscored the importance of two programs at the arts agency.

Gioia was to appear today with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to unveil this year's winners of the NEA Jazz Masters award. They also were to announce the launch of an NEA Jazz in the Schools initiative. The Web-based curriculum, geared to high school teachers and students, is being produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center.

But then Marsalis, the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, decided to return to New Orleans, his home town. Marsalis said he has been on the phone daily talking with fellow musicians, business people and others who make the city's music landmarks a destination. "Man, we are going to do what we can do," he said. "We are serious about saving our city."

The Jazz Masters for this year are percussionist Ray Barretto, vocalist Tony Bennett, keyboardist Chick Corea, trumpet player Freddie Hubbard, composer Bob Brookmeyer and clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. The awards also include a citation for jazz advocacy; bass player John Levy, the first African American personal manager in the music industry, is this year's choice.

The honorees receive a $25,000 fellowship and participate in music broadcasts and an NEA Jazz Masters tour. Both jazz programs are public-private efforts, with Verizon Foundation and Verizon Communications contributing a combined $400,000.

Jimmy Heath, the legendary saxophone player and veteran of many efforts to preserve and teach jazz, said the NEA program is working. "We are going in places where jazz is not that often performed," Heath, a former NEA Jazz Master, said yesterday. "We need something like this because heretofore the musicians haven't had anything as important at this level."

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