Thursday, May 12, 2016

Songs of Home Songs of Change, installation created with New Orleans high school students, opens May 20

Posted By on Thu, May 12, 2016 at 2:41 PM


Jebney Lewis’ latest sculpture is a series of contiguous steel plates. But it’s also a map of the New Orleans ward system and a musical instrument that gives off an eerie, theremin-like hum.

The sculpture is part of a project called Songs of Home Songs of Change, created in collaboration with the composer Rick Snow and the writer Christopher Staudinger. For the project, the group asked area high school students to record sounds that remind them of home or that tell the story of the changing city. Using electronic transducers, the recordings are played through the ward-shaped plates to create resonant tones. 

“They’re ordinary sounds, in some ways, or sounds that we’re familiar with, but these young people have a different way of looking at them,” Lewis says. “They’re pretty abstract when you play them through the plates, but they’re recognizable enough to be kind of evocative.”

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Friday, February 19, 2016

CSI: Baton Rouge

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2016 at 1:17 PM

  • Graphic by Lyn Brantley Vicknair

A common refrain among some lawmakers in Baton Rouge these days is that we should “look forward” and stop blaming former Gov. Bobby Jindal for Louisiana’s unprecedented fiscal crisis. If those lawmakers were to read the latest annual report by the Legislative Auditor, they’d change their tune.

According to the auditor, the Jindal Administration failed to timely file the vast majority of statutorily required reports on more than $1 billion a year in tax incentive giveaways for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

“We found that three of the six agencies that administer tax incentives submitted reports as of March 23, 2015. As a result, the Legislature only received information on five of the 79 tax incentives administered by these agencies,” the auditor’s report states on page 17.

“In addition, of the 79 tax incentive reports agencies were required to submit to the Legislature by March 1, 2014, 70 (89%) either were not submitted or did not comply with all of the reporting requirements. According to the Department of Revenue’s Tax Exemption Budgets, the revenue loss from tax incentives claimed in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 for which agencies provided no information or did not comply with reporting requirements totaled approximately $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively.”

You read that correctly: $1.1 billion for fiscal year 2013 and $1.3 billion for fiscal year 2014.

There’s our budget deficit right there, folks.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Girls Rock New Orleans presents its 2015 showcase

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 7:30 PM

Now in its second year, Girls Rock New Orleans wraps its weeklong camp this weekend with a performance from the campers and the bands they've started. Using music education, workshops, guest musicians and other activities throughout the week, Girls Rock is a confidence-building camp for girls and transgender and gender non-conforming youth. Campers don't have to have any musical experience to join.

"It's a youth empowerment camp with music as a vehicle," says camp co-organizer Cheryl Balolong.

Campers perform at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 13 at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center (1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 504-352-1150). The first Girls Rock camp started in Portland, Oregon in 2001, and the Girls Rock Camp Alliance now includes more than 40 groups around the world. For more information on the New Orleans camp, visit the website.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

James Cullen tapped to run NOCCA's Press Street Station, debuts all-day breakfast menu

Posted By on Wed, Jun 10, 2015 at 4:07 PM

Sweet potato brioche pain perdu is served with a seasonal fruit compote and Steen's Cane Syrup butter at Press Street Station. - HELEN FREUND
  • Sweet potato brioche pain perdu is served with a seasonal fruit compote and Steen's Cane Syrup butter at Press Street Station.

James Cullen
, who recently ran the kitchen at Trèo in Mid-City, has been hired as the executive chef at NOCCA institute’s Press Street Station (5 Press St., 504-249-5622).  Cullen is also in charge of operating the Box Car food truck as well as overseeing the institute’s catering operations.

Cullen parted ways with the Trèo team in January and had been looking to open up his own restaurant when the NOCCA gig came knocking.

“I was just very lucky and the timing was good,” Cullen says, adding that his new menu is more French-inspired while Treo’s concept focused more on tapas-style Spanish small plates. 

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Friday, March 27, 2015

‘Be annoying’

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 7:02 PM

LSU President F. King Alexander made some bold statements recently about the impact on higher education of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget. Alexander’s warnings are so dire some might call them shrill, which is exactly what Jindal and his few remaining supporters would like everyone to believe. Unfortunately, King is not overreacting. The numbers and the political realities back him up.

Alexander told reporters in several media markets this past week that Jindal’s answer to the state’s looming $1.6 billion budget shortfall contains reductions for LSU that are “so large we’d have to furlough everybody for the entire year.”

Alexander and several members of the Jindal-appointed LSU Board of Supervisors recently met with the governor to discuss the situation, to no apparent avail. Instead, several of the supervisors expressed vague confidence that somehow Jindal and lawmakers would find a way to muddle through. King responded that, yes, there’s always “divine intervention.”

Meanwhile, the earthly realities don’t bode well for higher ed. Here’s why:

Jindal’s proposed budget would reduce state funding to every public college and university in Louisiana by more than 80 percent — on top of the draconian cuts he has implemented over the past seven years. That’s not a misprint. The governor proposes to slash the current pathetic level of direct state support for higher ed by more than 80 percent. Those numbers don’t come from Alexander; they come from the Legislative Fiscal Office, which is nonpartisan.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

New legislation could allow sex ed surveys in New Orleans schools

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 at 5:30 PM

State Sen. J.P. Morrell. - SHARON TURNER
  • State Sen. J.P. Morrell.
As part of his 2015 Legislative package, State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, is working towards comprehensive sexual assault legislation, including how schools and universities respond to sexual assault. His first bill, however, is a measure to allow for school surveys to screen for sexual health risks among students in New Orleans public schools.

Currently, public elementary and secondary schools offer sex education through biology or phys. ed. classes, but schools are prohibited from "being tested, quizzed, or surveyed about their personal beliefs or practices in sex, morality, or religion." Morrell's measure, Senate Bill 31, would add an exemption to allow schools' governing authorities to anonymously survey students "about their risk behaviors, including those related to sexual health."

Morrell says he is filing the measure because State Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, has attempted year after year to pass comprehensive sex ed legislation statewide but is met with resistance from the Legislature.

"We haven't had success doing it statewide, so we're doing a local option," Morrell told Gambit, adding that New Orleans' high rates of HIV and teen pregnancy signal that a change is needed in sex ed courses. Through the measure, schools can assess the needs of the students before teaching sexual health.

State Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, also is filing a sex education bill in the House.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mardi Gras 2015: A few changes this year for Rex

Posted By on Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 3:05 PM

A waiter at Antoine's presents the Rex Organization's traditional baked Alaska.
  • A waiter at Antoine's presents the Rex Organization's traditional baked Alaska.

The Rex Organization (aka the School of Design) held its annual announcement lunch this afternoon at Antoine's to reveal more about the 2015 Rex procession, the theme of which will be "Wars That Shaped Early America" — with a special nod to the Battle of New Orleans, which is celebrating its bicentennial this year.

This year's floats include "Washington Crossing the Delaware," "Shays' Rebellion," "Tecumseh's War" and the "Boston Tea Party." Rex's signature floats — including His Majesty's Bandwagon, the Boeuf Gras, the Royal Barge and the relatively new Butterfly King — also will be in the 27-float procession.

One big change this year: Rex will not arrive at Spanish Plaza on Lundi Gras by Coast Guard cutter, as he has in the past. Instead, the King of Carnival will arrive by the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, where he will formally meet King Zulu and be toasted by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

What Bobby Jindal has stolen

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2015 at 11:49 AM


Term-limited state lawmakers may turn out to be the lucky ones next fall. They won’t have to explain to voters why they went along with Bobby Jindal’s fiscal insanity and cut more than $700 million from Louisiana’s public colleges and universities over the past seven years. Heck, the cuts could exceed $1 billion by Election Day, particularly since Jindal seems predisposed to do nothing in the face of a projected $1.4 billion budget gap.

Well, not quite nothing — he is laying the groundwork for a quixotic presidential run. I’m not sure how he’s going to explain $1 billion in cuts to higher education, especially when he’s touting himself as the savior of public education in Louisiana. Then again, the national media rarely look beyond press releases, and voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have no clue what a liar Jindal is.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Hard-won reforms in Jefferson schools

Posted By on Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 6:38 PM

Four years ago, the Jefferson Parish Public School System was in shambles. The previous school board had run up a $30 million deficit, nearly two-thirds of parish public schools were rated “D” or “F,” and the system overall scored a “D” — making it one of the worst in the state.

Today, some of Jefferson’s public schools rank among the best in the state. The $30 million deficit became a surplus large enough to give teachers a pay raise, Jefferson schools overall scored a “B” in the latest rankings, and the system is on track to become a national model for educational turnarounds.

What happened?

It started with Jefferson Parish voters’ decision in 2010 to elect five reform-minded school board members — barely enough for a majority of the nine-member board. In 2011, the new board hired Jim Meza as schools superintendent — and let him do his job without political interference. Those decisions changed the landscape.

When the new board took office in 2011, fewer than 5,700 Jefferson Parish public school students attended schools rated “A” or “B.” Today, more than 22,400 students attend “A” or “B” schools in Jefferson — more than in any other parish in Louisiana.

Improvement on the lower end of the scale has been equally dramatic. In 2011, more than 32,000 students in Jefferson attended “D” or “F” rated schools. Today, fewer than 9,000 attend such schools. That’s still too many, but the trend is very positive.

Other statistics from the recent statewide rankings tell a similar story:

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

YAYA to get new home June 1, 2015

Posted By on Wed, Sep 3, 2014 at 1:50 PM


Over the past 26 years, YAYA (Young Aspirations/Young Artists) has gone from a single-school arts education program in New Orleans to a fully fledged youth development organization empowering people through the creative arts. With its ever-expanding programing, from designing arts education curricula for 28 different schools to providing career and college preparation to students around the city, YAYA needs a permanent, consolidated home. 

Today, Sept. 3, representatives of YAYA and its partnering organizations hoisted colorful shovels and broke ground on a $1.3 million arts center at 3316 Lasalle St. in Central City. The target move-in date for the center, which will be installed right next door to the Market on LaSalle, is June 1, 2015. YAYA is working with Harmony Neighborhood Development, Bild Design and Landis Construction Company to complete the project. 

The center will be complete with a glass studio, an eco-arts garden, community space, a media lab and a gallery. All YAYA operations will be under one roof, which operations coordinator Lesley McBride says will make programing easier and more compact. 

Some broke ground, others dug. - JEANIE RIESS
  • Some broke ground, others dug.

Just Say YAYA, a gala to benefit the program's new building, is scheduled for Nov. 15. A patron party will feature a live and silent auction that will include glass crafted all over the country, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting the new center.

"The new YAYA arts center will strengthen the neighborhood by providing a place for creative expression for the children, young adults and their families, develop new community partners and provide a creative space for professional artists," said Timeka Junius, executive director of YAYA. "I believe the rich history of YAYA will forever remain in our hearts." 

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