An Artist Led Conversation in New Orleans

On Saturday, September 29th the CultureBank team traveled to New Orleans to meet with an immensely generous and remarkably diverse group of artists and innovative investment leaders: Andrea Chen of Propeller Group, artist and activist Jayeesha Dutta, writer Freddi Evans, activist and writer Kelly Harris, Megan Holt of One Book One New Orleans, Adele London of the Good Work Network, Kate McCrery of Loyola University, Cherry Rangle of the Foundation for Louisiana, artist Nick Slie, and Chief Shaka Zulu. Clyde Valentin of Ignite Dallas, who is working on the CultureBank pilot in Dallas, also joined us.

Hosted by Carol Babelle, Jo Ann Minor, and the team at Ashé Cultural Arts Center, we were met by a group of twenty-five people yearning to build investment portfolios that are catalytic in healing the Earth and encouraging equity and healing between people.  These twenty-five were traveling from Alexandria, Louisiana with Jubilee, a new organization co-founded by David Haynes, Michelle Long, Konda Mason, and Don Shaffer designed to help them build those portfolios.

Artists Kelly Harris, Nick Slie, Jayeesha Dutta, Megan Holt, and Freddi Evans framed the day through their responses to an urgent question for CultureBank and for Jubilee: “What does the action of true community investment look like?

We heard the story of Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks and her role in nurturing the success of Third World Press – the largest independent black-owned press in the United States. This story illustrated what can happen when one individual shares her success and her prosperity in order to develop a community asset, an example of “community investment that looks like love.” We were inspired to think about investing in rewilding and the role of protracted observation and deep listening in true systems of change. We were challenged to value and build creative third spaces that can nurture trust and cultivate healing. We explored the value of our labor, and labor of the heart, the mind, and the soul. We were invited to think of systems of support that nurture artists and their creativity. 

Following the artist responses, we spent the remainder of the day in small groups developing concrete propositions in response to the same question. These conversations, in distinct but overlapping ways, centered on new ways of thinking about value that embrace cultural and community assets as much as monetary or easily monetizable assets.

Groups made proposals that emphasize the critical need for trust between people and the valuable role of culture bearers and places of trust in communities. They explored alternative systems of value that blend culture, commerce, and creativity and that disrupt traditional expectations around financial return on investments.  

“To take into account the tributary system of value streams that combine to create community wealth such that power and prosperity is shared and directed by financial and non-financial actors.”

CultureBank is a new model for investment based on the belief that communities possess valuable assets of all kinds, and that artists have demonstrated ability to work within communities to illuminate these assets and deepen value. Artists are placed at the center of CultureBank’s investment proposition, because they are in fact early stage investors who work in and with communities to lift existing assets and pave the way for more productive investment that leads to shared prosperity.