New Orleans Mayor Cantrell Recommends No Festivals for 2020 Due to Coronavirus: Is This The Best Approach?

Dr. Brice Miller and his Mahogany Brass Band gets people grooving at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, 2018.

So, on today, April 14, 2020, New Orleans Mayor Cantrell recommends no festivals for 2020 due to coronavirus. The New Orleans Music Company ask: Is this the best approach? Were any additional options such as utilizing digital platforms and Pay Per View? Might this be a deathblow to an already fragile tourism-centric economy?

Mayor LaToya Cantrell put New Orleans on notice Tuesday that the festivals and major events postponed by the coronavirus outbreak may not be happening this year at all.

In a press conference at City Hall to update residents on the city’s coronavirus response, Cantrell said she was recommending that the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and other large events be put on hold for the rest of 2020, a move that would keep potential visitors from igniting a new COVID-19 outbreak even if it choked off the city’s tourism-focused economy for several more months.

Her staff later said it was too soon to discuss the possibility of an executive order to that effect, but said that Cantrell has been in touch with some festival organizers about her wishes.

“My opinion is all of that should be pushed back, period,” Cantrell said. “Absolutely no large events as it relates to the year of 2020.”

The recommendation, if enacted, would mean the cancellation of this year’s Jazz Fest, which was postponed until the fall, as well as the Essence Festival of Culture, the French Quarter Festival and a host of other events that together bring millions of tourists to the city and have either been postponed or were still planned for later this year.

When calling for the festival cancellations, Cantrell said she worried not just about New Orleans’ progress in “flattening the curve” and reducing the number of cases — and deaths — from the pandemic, but about the progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in other states that might have residents who travel to New Orleans for those events.

The mayor’s staff said her recommendation on events extends even to smaller gatherings on the city’s festival circuit, like the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, which planned to finalize its date this month.

Festival organizers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday. In a prepared statement, Mark Romig, Chief Marketing Officer of New Orleans & Co., which promotes tourism in the city, said that the city’s tourism industry would be guided by the advice of health experts and government officials.

“We all know how important our festivals are to our economy and, most importantly, we know that must follow the guidelines that federal, state and city health experts and leadership recommend to safeguard our health,” Romig said. “We will get back to hosting festivals just as soon as it is prudent to do so.”

But Cantrell stopped short of saying whether her recommendation would apply to New Orleans Saints games and the 76,000-odd fans that pack into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for every home game.

Cantrell said that the NFL as a whole is struggling with those decisions.

“Those who are in the right position to have those types of conversations, they are having them. And I believe they will end up in the right place,” Cantrell said. “But at the end of the day, we have to be realistic. And I think the data should drive what we’re able to do.”

The information above is from today’s local newspaper.

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In a separate interview, the founder of The New Orleans Music Company shared a few thoughts on today’s announcement:

Considering all, Dr. Brice Miller, former Director of Cultural Economy for the City of New Orleans isn’t sure Cantrell’s announcement was timely nor supported by industry experts and festival organizers. “Yes, this is a public health crisis we are dealing with globally. However, this is also 2020, not 1920. Technology is both our friend and our primary communication during these unprecedented times,” Miller said.

“This seems like another knee-jerk reaction from the Mayor. There are multiple ways each of these festivals and event could be hosted using cyber presentations and viewing, including Pay-Per-View, which still supports the economic impact of these massive events. People all over the world love New Orleans. Imagine folk from every corner of the planet paying to watch New Orleans musicians and cultural performers bring some happiness to this current dim world? Unfortunately, Cantrell dampened the possibilities by not having those who’re most informed on her team.”

“Remember how after Katrina we touted how resilient New Orleans was? Hosting these festivals, in innovative ways would be the best way to highlight resilience isn’t just a political feel good term,” Miller stated.

As one of the premiere musician-owned entertainment providers, today’s notice from the Mayor is like striking up the funeral dirge. To now think, March 14th through the remainder of the year, no gigs, no performances, no cultural economy…

What are your thoughts on the Mayor’s announcement? What options do you think should be considered?

UPDATE: The following statement was issued by the New Orleans Saints football team following Cantrell’s comments:

“We are preparing to play and we are being very proactive in working with health care professionals, our medical staff and both the NBA and NFL. In addition, we are in constant contact with local and state government,” said Greg Bensel, senior vice president of communications and broadcast for the Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Bensel added that when the Saints return in the fall, “our highest priority will be the health and safety of our fans, staff, players and coaches. It is what we need to do and are doing relative to planning to play and we will be ready.”

“And considering the economic and cultural significance of the Saints, we are working to do everything in our power to make it work. It’s too important for our city,” Bensel said.

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