Back in January, the New Orleans City Council was to hold a public hearing about revisions to a proposed noise ordinance. At the last minute, and amid allegations of backdoor deals, the ordinance revisions were withdrawn, but an organization known as MaCCNO — The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans — went ahead with the protest they’d organized. A second line, led by musician Glen David Andrews, started outside City Hall and paraded into Council Chambers.
When the noise ordinance was temporarily withdrawn, MaCCNO said it was a victory, but the fight to create a noise ordinance in a fair and open process that includes the needs of musicians, performers, venue owners, culture bearers, concerned citizens and music fans is far from over.
Ethan Ellestad is MaCCNO’s Coordinator. At a recent MaCCNO meeting, which took place in the back room of Buffa’s Restaurant and Lounge on a recent Wednesday evening, he told the gathered group, “One thing we’ve certainly learned is that vigilance is important, because had we not been vigilant before then the whole original ordinance may well be law now. So we need to take a lesson from that and keep going.”
Ellestad’s background is in urban planning and community organizing. He says that when culture is used as a community development tool, the benefits don’t necessarily flow back to the people who create that culture. Part of what MaCCNO does is work to change that — institutionally.
“Whether it be policy and law, but also getting the community and getting them involved in these issues,” Ellestad says. “And educating people that may not be interested in things like zoning on the basic things of how this can impact their life.”
In other words, when it comes to issues relating to music and culture, MaCCNO tries to make our democratic process more transparent, easier to understand, and less painful to participate in.
For example, at the same MaCCNO meeting, Ellestad explains how another piece of noise legislation will make it’s way to becoming law, or not.
“I think it still is the plan to introduce something at the city council on the 10th of this month. There’s no public comment.”
Then, Hannah Kreiger Benson, MaCCNO’s meeting facilitator and media spokesperson, jumps in and explains: “If anyone doesn’t know the process by which legislation gets introduced: first read is basically saying this now exists as an item on a future agenda. So it’s saying: there is this piece of legislation, and it will be talked about more and voted on.”
Ellestad continues, “When it’s on first read, you can actually access the legislation. So it gives you 10 days to take the legislation, read it, dissect it before the public comment period.”
MaCCNO began in September of 2012. Several bars, which had been music venues for years, were told they didn’t have permits for live entertainment. Suddenly live music seemed endangered, and people were angry. Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins called for a meeting at a club he then owned.
“And there was just a lot of yelling,” recalls Kreiger Benson. “It was a lot of people just being mad.”
Long-standing tensions around music exploded. Kreiger Benson says people needed to vent. A week later, they came back.
“Shutting down the venues was a flashpoint,” explains Ellestad, “but there were so many issues that needed to be addressed that people came, and everyone had an issue they wanted to get off their chest. But it clearly was not going to get solved in one meeting, two meetings, or three months’ worth of meetings. It was going to be a long process.”
MaCCNO emerged from those first meetings as a broad coalition of civic leaders, musicians, and concerned citizens dedicated to bridging the gap between culture and law so that everyone has access to information and a voice in decisions.
Written by Eve Abrams for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation.
Learn more about The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans.