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CREATIVITY AS CURRENCY

I want to compliment Gambit Weekly for "Fill in the Blanks" (May 4) and for its ongoing series regarding the importance of art education. It has never been more important that we recognize the role of the arts not only in education, but also in making our state a better place to live, work and play.

While I agree that arts education improves academic achievement, I believe the role of art in our schools is only the tip of the iceberg. The arts also play a tremendously important role in growing our state's economy. Every artist, every artisan, every filmmaker and every musician is a budding entrepreneur whose ideas, if supported, will not only improve the quality of our lives, but will create jobs. In the coming year, my administration will unveil a Creative Industries Initiative in which we explore ways to grow the arts as an economic engine across Louisiana. Our first public discussion regarding a creative economy for Louisiana will take place in the fall with a Creative Industries Summit that will bring stakeholders to explore creativity as currency in the New South. The Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism has long supported artists as a means of cultural development. But I think Louisiana could realize a greater impact from its investment if we begin to consider the artist as a small business.

Finally, I want to let your readers know about a resource that is immediately available to teachers in New Orleans and across the state. Right now, the Louisiana Serve Commission in my office is accepting applications for service-learning grants during the 2004-05 school year. I can think of few better opportunities to promote arts education than to explore the natural connection between community service, education and the arts. We are working hard to make more than $200,000 in federal grants available to the community, and I encourage teachers to download a copy of the application, due May 21, at www.crt.state.la.us/laserve/lands.html.

Mitchell J. Landrieu
Lieutenant Governor

DON'T JUST FUND, SUPPORT Too often Louisiana and New Orleans come up on the bottom end of national surveys and statistical reports. So when I read your commentary "Fund The Arts" (May 11), I felt a strong call to action to speak my mind.

I wholeheartedly agree with your commentary about the necessity of funding the arts in our state and city. Not only do the arts matter, but they are an essential part of our culture and our economy. As New Orleans has put its eggs in the basket of tourism as the economic driver of our fine city, we must look to the components that make up that tourism. Cultural tourism is the new buzzword in the industry, and the arts are surely a vital part of that cultural tourism. The arts have the ability to heal, to inspire, to teach, to promote creative problem solving; even more, they are a proven catalyst for economic development and growth. Look at the Warehouse District.

I have seen, over the past decade, the desire for New Orleans to become "this kind of center" or "that kind of center" for some industry we do not currently possess, and it always irks me that we do not look at what is already in our own backyard to promote and grow. The arts are a proven entity in this town and should be treated as equals to the other components of our tourist industry. We have one of the most dynamic visual arts scenes in the country, and we have a great mass of talented artists whose works stand up on a national level. So why don't we trumpet the beauty of our arts scene to all those who will listen? To put it in simple economic terms, admirers, supporters and collectors of art (i.e. cultural travelers) are high-dollar folks who have much more disposable income to spend on their visits to our city; we should target them and embrace them.

So not only should we fund the arts as you wrote in your commentary, but we should support the arts in every way possible. I would like to further your call to action by challenging our elected officials to include the visual arts as a part of their stump speeches and to utilize their pulpits to further plant the seed that New Orleans and Louisiana are fast becoming national centers for the arts.

Jonathan Ferrara
Artist/owner
Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

BLANCO'S NEW RECORD? Re: Brickbat to Louisiana for its poor health indicators (May 11).

We couldn't agree with you more. Louisiana has one of the nation's unhealthiest populations. Yet Gov. Kathleen Blanco's administration's proposed cuts in the coming fiscal year will only worsen the situation.

As reported by The Times-Picayune: "Emergency room beds, mental healthcare, some surgery units, dental clinics, family practice clinics and an array of health services for Louisiana's poor and uninsured will have to be shut down at the state's charity hospitals to plug a $91 million budget hole, hospital officials said."

In another news report by the Associated Press: "Louisiana's health department grapples with $314 million in proposed cuts for the 2004-05 budget year." Health inspections at food processing plants and restaurants would be curtailed. Water quality tests at municipal facilities are imperiled. Even counseling assistance for gambling addicts would face severe cuts.

More than any other issue, what distinguished Blanco from her 2003 gubernatorial opponent Bobby Jindal was her just characterization of Jindal's record on gutting public health care. Yet if these proposed cuts become reality, Blanco's health care record will be as sullied (and this will be after just one year in office!).

The citizens of Louisiana must contact their state legislators now to demand that the Charity Hospital system and the Department of Health & Hospitals be safeguarded against any further budget cuts. In the next few weeks, the State Revenue Estimating Conference will convene to determine how increased oil revenues (nearly double what had been forecast) and other factors will positively impact the state budget. We should then allocate accordingly.

Charity hospitals and public health initiatives have borne a disproportionate share of budget cuts for far too long. And Charity's budget in recent years has been defunded of federal monies meant for it in favor of even economic development programs!

We can have a first-class statewide health system that can offer more comprehensive and cost-effective coverage for the (often working) uninsured than any of the limited private solutions being proposed. Employers and workers alike will benefit, and Louisiana can provide a truly unique inducement to attract businesses from around the nation and world.

Gambit readers interested in learning more about what they can do can view us online at www.charityhospital.org.

K. Brad Ott
Legislative Committee Chair
Advocates For Louisiana Public Healthcare

HUGS ALL AROUND I am sorry about the loss of your fishing hole ("Worth Saving," April 20). But Louisiana's wetlands had been in the process of disappearing for decades. There is more to the care of our environment than the obvious. What else are we losing in Louisiana?

A simple check of our representatives' voting records on all areas of the environment will be enlightening. We need people in Washington and Baton Rouge who hug tree huggers. It's that serious here.

Leonard Joseph

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