New Orleans Nocturnes: Q&A with People Say Project
Jarret Lofstead is the co-founder of NOLAFugees Press and co-director of The People Say Project. He uses his multimedia platforms to support local writers and locally produced digital content. He is particularly mindful of the power dynamics behind the curtain when it comes to cultural production and consumption.
Even in our brief Q&A, his edge and enthusiasm cuts through to crucial issues in the development of New Orleans’s cultural economy. In the midst of all this serious talk, he still reassures us that New Orleans Nocturnes will be fun and frothy: “we like to think that we throw the kind of party Tennessee would enjoy.”
1. What can we expect from this year’s collaboration with the Tennessee Williams Festival?
The Festival is great place to reunite with old friends, and Williams’ fans will be pleasantly surprised to learn that we’ve booked a bunch of his old fellow travelers for what is, in reality, a dirty little burlesque show. Look forward to dancers (belly, bounce, and pole), masseurs fit and trim, off-color jokes, and epic short verse delivered by titans of the local burlesque and literary scenes. DJ Rik Ducci spins classic New Orleans Soul, Hendrick’s Gin pours out cocktails, and we party on the roof of The Monteleone, the coolest hotel in the French Quarter. When you’re picking out Saturday night’s entertainment, use your discretion.
2. The People Say Project places itself at the intersection of “culture and money.” Why is this intersection important to you? Should it be important to the people of New Orleans?
In a region that claims as its primary economic revitalization engine “culture,” there are a great many reasons why “culture+money” bears scrutiny, especially considering the rate at which people are moving here. Folks relocate to New Orleans for the culture, but just as often they move away because of the culture. “Culture” is more than beads, coffee shops, food trucks, festivals, open container laws, and jazz music wafting through the streets; New Orleans “culture” is also defined by racial division, political corruption, guns, and most important, economic class. It’s the tension between these two definitions that makes the city the cultural hub it is, and sadly, it’s hard to imagine one definition existing without the other.
Each PSP show is followed by an audience Q&A, and over the past two years people have asked some really great questions that ranged from career advice to political favoritism and zoning laws. Because our guests have been so diverse, our audience has been as well, and we’ve gotten a good cross-section of the community together. Questions about neighborhood redevelopment, the branding of New Orleans music, and the viability of the local film industry have all come up. When they leave the show, we just hope they leave thinking.
3. What motivates The People Say Project? If there is a mission statement of sorts, what does it say?
In 2010 I was teaching Digital Media at Loyola University. Louisiana Endowment of the Humanities director of public programs Brian Boyles and I came up with the idea to produce a website/webseries that focused on the newly-coined term “Cultural Economy.” What effects would result from a public policy of cultural promotion? Who was making money? More important, who wasn’t? Would the new New Orleans treat its “culture workers” like it treats its service industry workers? What happens to a city that tries to run on “culture”?
We book a conversation or interview, open it with a deejay and a happy hour, and publish digital media projects that focus on making work and making a living. In 2012 we did meet and greet/deejay sessions with the City Council District B candidates, interviewed Beasts of the Southern Wild soundtrack contributor/Lost Bayou Rambler Louis Michot and international chanteuse and documentary subject Meschiya Lake, and covered a bunch about the bands and the business of the Voodoo Music Experience.
The Mission? To be able to work and live in New Orleans with a minimum of molestation.
4. The People Say Project seems to value a broad communal involvement in their discussions of art, culture and money. What are some ways for the average person attending our Festival to get involved?
Currently, NOLAFugees is working on some commercials and a short documentary for a local charter school. We’re toying with a return to our earlier, comedic form with a web series to be developed later this year. And we are always looking for work. Did I mention we are for hire?
— By Kiki Whang
— Photograph by The People Say Project