It's the latest salvo in an ongoing behind-the-scenes standoff between conservationists and nightclubs. Many local bands and promoters consider "flyering" a vital advertising venue and method for drawing an audience, while its opponents contend that it generates headaches and trash, and have dubbed the flyers "vertical litter."
"These things are an eyesore," says Lucy Neil, author of the Garden District Association's letter and former campaign chair of the group's beautification committee. "We're trying to do prevention and education. There's something to be said for a clean [telephone] pole. If we can get the encrustation of old signs off the telephone poles, we can deal gently with new signs that appear."
The Garden District Association's clean-up campaign doesn't stop at music-related items; it's a sweeping effort that encompasses all advertisements and notices, including garage sales and lost-and-found pet notices. To Linda Novak, general manager of El Matador, that's the equivalent of censoring vital community information.
"These posters to me show that there's signs of life in these neighborhoods, that there are cultural events happening, and people are interacting with their community," she says. "What about the political signs left all over the neutral ground? I had political signs in my neighborhood that were left up a month after the last campaign was over. And as far as [Lucy Neil's] idea of advertising 'properly,' what young musician can afford to spend $300 on an ad for a gig that they make $20 on?"
City Councilman Oliver Thomas agrees with Novak about inconsistent enforcement of the ordinance, but agrees with Neil that the telephone-pole clutter needs to go. "I think they ought to enforce the laws on campaign materials," says Thomas, who Neil copied on her letter. "We have enough trash in this city. This happens to be one of the cities with the most litter in America. I've heard many complaints on this issue over the years."
But Thomas doesn't mince words when it comes to his feelings on telephone-pole postings: "Some of that trash on these poles is ridiculous. The concert paraphernalia, political stuff, garage sales ... These signs, with rain and weather and time, they fall down and wind up on the neutral ground. There's something wrong with somebody who tells me that's a good thing.
"The real problem is that the people who put them up don't have anybody going behind them to clean up," Thomas continues. "It would be a moot issue if they policed themselves. But they don't, and think about it: You rarely do see them putting these signs up in the middle of the day -- it's always in the middle of the night. They know it's wrong."
A number of clubs contacted about flyers declined to comment. If El Matador's Novak -- who says she only puts show notices in the window of her club -- sounds like a lone voice defending the practice, that's because the law isn't on the venues' side. Despite a rich grassroots tradition that includes the glorious rainbow-style multi-act R&B handbills of the '50s, the psychedelic posters of the '60s and the always-popular boxing-card format (brilliantly employed by Mid City Lanes in its Beau Jocque vs. Boozoo Chavis posters), it's illegal in New Orleans to put posters on telephone poles.
Section 134-131 of New Orleans' city code reads, "It shall be unlawful to paste or place any bills, posters or dodgers upon any telephone or electrical lamppost or pole, with or without the consent of the owners of such pole."
Councilman Thomas suggests allowing clubs to advertise in the city's bus shelters and on the side of RTA buses for a minimal fee -- an admirable idea filled with logistical nightmares. Neil suggests using "accepted community bulletin boards and or in the print or electronic media." Novak simply believes that the vertical litter campaign is a case of misdirected energy.
"I've been working for a year on a photo essay on garbage in this city," says Novak. "I realize how much trash there is throughout the city. But where do we draw the line on this issue? What about the swamp-tour brochures that are handed out in the French Quarter? You can't separate what's put into people's hands with other methods. I don't see how you can enforce this without unfairly targeting people who need the medium. This isn't about prevention, it's about educating people not to contribute to the trash of the city. You can't control what people do, you can only hope they have respect for themselves and their neighborhood."