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ART NEWS | Defenders of Culture

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A Q&A with Aimee Smallwood, CEO of the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation

What is your organization’s mission?
When we look at the cultural economy as a sector, it is the second largest economic driver in the state of Louisiana. The mission of LCEF is to support the people who work in that sector.

What are the “cultural industries” of Louisiana?
Our cultural industries are what people all over the world think of when they hear “New Orleans” or “Louisiana;” so, in a sense, our culture is our brand. LCEF serves all of the cultural industries that make Louisiana so unique; these include art, architecture, gastronomy, graphic design and digital media, fashion, film and video, literature, historic preservation, music and more.

What kind of initiatives has LCEF put forth?

Our two major initiatives are our Healthcare Initiative and our Economic Opportunity Fund.

Cultural workers tend to be an “at-risk” population—those with low-income and little to no health insurance. The LCEF Healthcare Initiative connects cultural workers to free or low-cost healthcare services.

Through our Economic Opportunity Fund grant program, we make seed grants to individuals, cultural nonprofits and small cultural businesses with ideas for innovative ways to build their own revenue streams. Their plans must be feasible and well thought out, but must also be outside the norm of their usual activities. Some examples include:

Stacy LaFleur, a visual artist from the Northshore who utilized funding to create a boxed painting instruction kit. Much like businesses that teach painting to groups using pre-sketched images on canvas, LaFleur’s kit provides a similar experience, but with the instruction included. Her kits have been especially popular with hospital patients who cannot attend classes, but can still benefit from the healing aspects of painting and being creative.

“Queen Reesie” is a Mardi Gras Indian who was funded to develop a show to educate schoolchildren about one of our most fascinating cultural traditions. Her performance employs Mardi Gras Indians, providing them with income opportunities throughout the year. Queen Reesie’s tribe also received funding to create more compact and travel-friendly Indian costumes so that Queen Reesie’s crew can take their demonstrations on the road.

Sarah Dunn is a visual artist who used EOF funds to transfer her artwork to textiles. After creating a line of pillows and scarves, she partnered with local fashion designer Michelle Beatty, and the duo received funds to create an eco-friendly clothing line that debuted at Fashion Week New Orleans this past spring.

Why were Mayor Landrieu and Jennifer Eplett Reilly selected to be honored at the 2012 LCEF annual fundraising event, LA Fête Louisiane?

Mayor Landrieu: LCEF was the mayor’s brainchild, designed to revive New Orleans’ cultural economy after Hurricane Katrina. He established our organization in 2005 when he was Lieutenant Governor. Additionally, he launched the Cultural Economy Initiative at the state level in order to fill some of the gaps of government in serving the cultural workers of Louisiana. His vision has been a catalyst nationally and internationally for quantifying the impact of culture on economies, and we continue to be inspired by his thinking.

Jennifer Eplett Reilly: One the organization’s original founders, Reilly, like Mayor Landrieu, believed strongly in the concept of culture as a major part of the state’s economy. She exemplifies a driven commitment to shed light on the importance of culture to our state; she is not only a founder of LCEF, but of other organizations as well.

What can we expect from the 2012 LA Fête Louisiane?

This is the first year that LA Fête will recognize honorees; we are really excited about that part of the event. I must say, though, that this is not going to be one of those stodgy events with lots of speeches and rubber chicken! LA Fête Louisiane is more like a high-end festival with incredible entertainment–the Original Pinettes Brass Band, Clint Maedgen, a gospel group called United Praise Singers and more. Guests will also be treated to fashion, performance art, a silent auction, food from Louisiana restaurants and demonstrations from some of our grantees. We want guests to witness how their funds are used by bringing them together with the very grantees who have made a great impact on our culture. In response to a 10 pm noise ordinance, we have planned a silent disco for dancing under the stars: guests wear wireless headsets and a live DJ spins tunes that only the dancers can hear! This should be fun for dancers and observers. Purchase tickets at www.culturaleconomy.org or by calling (504) 895-2800.