10th Artist Lab In New Orleans

RPM just concluded our 10th Artist Lab in New Orleans! This trip was also special as August will mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the levees. Since the first lab, we have gathered with artists in this incredible city to witness, learn, and support the recovery and rebuilding efforts and help sustain the cultural community. And now, with most of the water lines faded, we focus our time with leaders from the community and our partner organizations who are working on critical issues.

We heard about the pressures the cultural community is under. We talked about how to stem violence in our communities. We ate at the legendary Dooky Chase, and heard about the long legacy of artists and activists that have come through their doors for sustenance and to organize and collaborate. We got on boats and went into the delta to witness erosion and the impact of the coal and oil industry, as well as climate change. And we had long conversations about how to be effective artists-activists…It was, as always, magical.

Since 2006, RPM has worked with local and national partners to bring over 100 musicians to the front lines of social justice issues in places like New Orleans, the US-Mexico border and eastern Kentucky. Together, these artists have generated over $1M and raised critical awareness for groups working on environment and social justice issues.

Dozens of creative collaborations and songs have also emerged from these Labs. Some of the songs actually quote community leaders that we met with. In fact, in 2010 when we thought it would be a good idea to make a benefit compilation with some of the participants, called Dear New Orleans, we thought we would get 10-12 songs. Thirty-three songs were submitted!! A triple album!!

One of our proudest moments in this work was when we were able to buy Al Johnson—a musician from the lower 9th ward who wrote the theme song for Mardi Gras called “Carnival Time”—a new house in the Musicians’ Village.

In addition to funds and awareness raised and creative collaborations and projects inspired, our Artist Labs have also inspired and informed the creation of The Chefs Boot Camp For Policy & Change at the James Beard Foundation. With the help of our methodology and expertise, organizers drew from RPM’s program to design and execute the framework for the chef equivalent of the Artist Labs. The Chefs Boot Camp program recruits some of the country’s top and emerging chefs.

For the artists that come with us and the local community members, their words about these experiences speak for themselves:

“I came to this retreat hoping that my mind would be blown in terms of the impact musicians can have on the world. Mission already accomplished. I could go home now if I wanted to…and I don’t want to.” —Merrill Garbus, Tune-Yards

“The time of Katrina was devastating. I haven’t got over that yet. I think about it…I lost everything. I’m a survivor with all the help from [RPM] and other people. I’ve done well. And I’m thankful.” —Al “Carnival Time” Johnson

“By engaging artists from around the country in efforts to support the tradition bearers of New Orleans, RPM forged a link between the music community affected by the flood of 2005 and a global network of musicians and fans… it represents the ongoing commitment of artists from all corners to give back to those who have inspired them.” —Jordan Hirsch, former executive Director of Sweet Home New Orleans

“Successful advocacy requires a compelling message, credible messengers, and effective delivery…RPM doesn’t just understand this; they make it happen, and in doing so change the world for the better. Thanks to RPM, Gulf Restoration Network has built valuable relationships with artists and musicians and received critical funds and awareness for our work.” —Steve Murchie, Campaigns Director, Gulf Restoration Network

Like all of our programs, the Artists Labs are only made possible by the support of our institutional and individual donors. For every dollar you have given us, we’ve generated $3 in in-kind and cash contributions from artists and their fans to other organizations. THANK YOU!!!