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Fund the Arts 

The Ogden Museum already has gained notice as one of the crown jewels of this city's cultural life.

Mayor Ray Nagin last week broke from his scripted "State of the City" address to talk candidly about the need to make New Orleans a "world-class" city. What will it take to compete with cities like Dallas, Houston and Atlanta? The mayor called for an end to separate legal battles that have stalled two economic development projects -- the fourth phase of the Morial Convention Center and the conversion of the World Trade Center into a hotel. He also called for public support of promising business opportunities for our needy city, including expansion of the downtown medical district and development of future spacecraft at the Michoud plant in eastern New Orleans. "We need to embrace change a little bit better than we do," the mayor said.

We agree. That's why we support increased public funding for our local arts and museums -- an economic segment of our city that actually rivals those of Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta despite recent growing pains.

"We have some 172 art galleries in New Orleans; Houston has about 60 galleries," says Scott Hutcheson, chief operating officer for the Arts Council of New Orleans, a private, nonprofit advocate of art as economic development. In addition, New Orleans consistently ranks in the top 15 art destinations listed annually by American Style Magazine.

To become the world-class city the mayor envisions -- and Louisiana needs -- New Orleans will need state help. Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc has asked local supporters of the arts and museums to coordinate their requests for state funds, and they are doing that for the first time. We applaud this move. Mark Drennen, the new president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc. and the commissioner of administration during Gov. Mike Foster's tenure, will lead the effort. Nagin will be consulted -- at least twice -- before the coalition sends its "big letter" to LeBlanc, says Shirley Trusty Corey, president and CEO of the Arts Council.

Some very worthy projects in the Warehouse Arts and Museum District stand to benefit, including The National D-Day Museum, the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), the Roger Houston Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and Louisiana Artworks, a multi-use facility for artists that resumed construction last year after a three-year halt.

The D-Day Museum and the CAC both need state funding for federal matching monies; we support their requests. And we strongly endorse two separate but "neighboring" funding requests that are critical to the imminent openings of two Arts District venues near Lee Circle.

First, the Ogden Museum needs $6.4 million to expand exhibition space and education programs, and to renovate the Patrick F. Taylor Library. If it's not delayed by the kind of squabbles over funding and ownership that seem to accompany every major development, the Taylor Library should open this fall, giving the entire museum more than 68,000 square feet of space.

The Taylor Library is a key piece of the $80 million Ogden complex, which opened last August. When completed, this historic library will exhibit Southern art from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Taylor Library also will house the multi-media orientation theater, a research library and archives, a computer resource center, and an institute to promote the advancement of Southern art and culture. Donated 10 years ago by oilman Patrick F. Taylor, a local philanthropist who reopened a Massachusetts quarry to cut stone for the renovation of the Neo-Romanesque structure, the Taylor Library is listed on the National Register. Currently, Goldring Hall, a state-owned building, is the only part of the museum that is open to the public.

The Ogden sprang forth 10 years ago from a complicated series of real estate transactions and donations. Named for arts patron Roger Ogden, whose collection forms the museum's core, it was fathered by five individual and organizational entities. The Ogden's growing pains are many and will be recounted in a final report by the state Inspector General's Office. We have seen the draft. We also have seen the striking museum, which has gained notice as one of the crown jewels of this city's cultural life. We know enough to know that the Ogden should be funded, the Taylor Library should open on schedule, and the responsible parties should work to correct any flaws in the art of the deal.

Finally, we urge public support for Louisiana Artworks, a 90,000-square foot facility at Howard and Carondelet streets, near Lee Circle. The Artworks is scheduled to open in late fall, and it will be a perfect complement to the Taylor Library. A final thought: 12 years ago, this newspaper hosted a summit on the arts. At the time, Trusty Corey noted that Louisiana ranked behind 49 other states and four territories in state funding for the arts. Today, we are among the top 20. That's a great leap forward. But we cannot become a world-class city without sustained support for the arts. The Ogden and other arts institutions warrant state funding. If you need further evidence, just go visit the museum and see for yourself.


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