A new book by UC Santa Cruz professors maps the changing cultural scene in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit the Crescent City in the summer of 2005.
"New Orleans Suite: Music and Culture in Transition" (UC Press 2013), by Lewis Watts (Art) and Eric Porter (History, American Studies), provides a window into the social life of New Orleans—both before and after the devastating hurricane.
"'New Orleans Suite' is not merely a book about Katrina,” says Porter, author of the award-winning 2002 book "What is This Thing Called Jazz?"
“Through Lewis’s photographs and my written sections, we consider how the storm was both a transformative force and a vehicle that enabled longstanding processes to come into view.
“We’re particularly interested in ways black culture — especially music — has been mobilized to reconstruct the city post-Katrina, for better and for worse.”
Porter notes that the focus on celebrating the value of New Orleans’ unique musical culture has sometimes drawn attention away from other pressing issues—such as the exploitation of musicians and other low-wage workers, or the conversion of public housing into mixed-use developments.
“We continued to see such contradictions as we contemplated the city's renewal in the years after Katrina,” Porter observes.
He adds that while young professionals have recently moved to the city, many people who lived in New Orleans prior to the storm remain displaced.
"Many residents — especially in the city's lower income areas—have had to deal with a high crime rate, public schools of poor quality, joblessness, and unreasonable rents, as much housing still remains blighted or vacant,” says Porter.
The book employs Watts’s black and white photography to expose the contrast of devastation and humanity at the epicenter of New Orleans.
“New Orleans has a patina that reflects history, climate and culture which attracted me long before Katrina altered the landscape,” says Watts. “There are expressions of culture here that happen nowhere else in the world.”