Without a doubt, the response from the culture sectors in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina was one of the most striking narratives of the storm. Cries from all over the country arose in the weeks after Katrina, issuing forth clarion calls to save New Orleans’ culture, and the past two years have seen an explosion of local, regional, and national efforts intended to support the musical, artistic, culinary, performative, and architectural industries. Some of these efforts have been modest individual endeavors to preserve the city’s cultural traditions (such as the House of Dance and Feathers in the Lower Ninth Ward); others have been large-scale capital projects intended to revitalize entire neighborhoods (such as Habitat for Humanity’s Musicians’ Village, or the Hyatt Jazz District). Regardless of scale, such developments suggest that culture still is and will continue to be one of the saving graces of New Orleans, so much so that in May 2007 novelist Jason Berry argued in the Boston Globe that individuals from the cultural sector such as Wynton Marsalis have shown more leadership on the national stage in rebuilding the city than some public officials.
Yet grave questions still remain: with one-third of New Orleans’ citizens still in diaspora, and many of those projected to remain in their displaced locations, what will the altered cultural landscape of the city look like? What forms of hybridization will take place in other cities around America—will, as Andrei Codrescu suggested, “their food get better”? How will New Orleans physically change after its historic architecture suffers demolition, reinvention, and development. and what impacts will this have? How will Mardi Gras Indians reunite their scattered tribes? What new forms of cultural expression will arise as the floodwaters recede—sculptural, musical, literary—and by what process(es) will they be woven into the fabric of the city’s identity?
This conference seeks to address these issues and more, explicitly targeting the complex interplay between culture, heritage, and the rebuilding process. Timed to coincide with the three-year anniversary, the conference assumes that many of the primary rebuilding efforts will have been in place long enough to merit sustained analysis and critique. Taken broadly, we ask: how are culture and cultural heritage transformed, in both material and immaterial ways, following a natural disaster? How do culture and cultural heritage contribute to the rebuilding of a society following a disaster, and what are the processes by which culture and cultural heritage themselves are rebuilt? Some indicative questions this conference seeks to address are:
• How do definitions of culture, and the methodologies used to assess them, emerge, shift, and realign within post-disaster scenarios?
• In this context, how is the distinction between past cultural expression (loosely termed ‘heritage’) and contemporary cultural practice expressed?
• What does it mean to speak of ‘authenticity’, or the absence or loss thereof?
• How has the New Orleans ‘brand’ been developed and deployed post-K; likewise, what are the consequences of policy initiatives such as the World Cultural Economic Forum?
• What does it mean for a rebuilding or redevelopment plan to plan specifically ‘for’ culture?
• How are institutional and individual claims to culture formed, sustained, and broken?
• At what point(s) does natural or ecological heritage become cultural heritage, and how is this boundary exposed/negotiated?
• How does ‘disaster capitalism’ affect culture and cultural heritage?
• What is the role of memory (individual, institutional, collective) in representing culture?
Further questions should be directed to Benjamin Morris, firstname.lastname@example.org.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
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