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Art, Culture, and Community Development Collaboratory Begins Research in New Orleans

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Reposted from: Imagining America: Artist and Scholars in Public Life
Posted on March 5, 2012 by Jeremy Lane

By Micah Salkind, Doctoral Student in American Studies, Brown University, Catherine Michna, PhD, Instructor, University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Ruth Janisch Lake, Assistant Director, Civic Engagement Center, Macalester College

IA’s Art, Culture, and Community Development Collaboratory spent Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend in New Orleans working on the first phase of our participatory action research. We documented and interviewed participants from several IA member institutions’ civic engagement programs and cultural partnerships in that city. We began at Xavier University, where longtime professor (and IA board member) Ron Bechet explained how the Xavier Art Department’s longstanding cultural partnerships with artists and community organizers shape his institution, affect his collaborators, and contribute to cultural life in the city.

Bechet introduced us to Big Chief Darryl Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indians, who has been working with the Community Arts Program at Xavier since 1997, developing Mardi Gras Indian Arts (MGIA) education and youth programming for middle-school children. According to Montana, the longstanding partnership between Mardi Gras Indian practitioners and Visual Arts Professors Bechet and MaPó Kinnord-Payton has helped to facilitate a growing recognition of Mardi Gras Indian art and performance as the “heartbeat” of New Orleans’ cultural landscape.

In 2007, the three created an intensive hands-on cultural immersion and  training program for middle school age children from Xavier’s Gert Town neighborhood and greater New Orleans. Each summer since 1997, youth have learned how Mardi Gras Indian traditions developed while acquiring costume-making skills. Beginning this year, the program will take place year-round since Xavier has expanded its support for MGIA into a continuous component of its community arts curriculum.

For Montana and the Yellow Pocahontas tribe, MGIA is a platform to develop organizing and pedagogical strategies around intellectual property issues that affect their artist communities and city. Cultivating long-term engagement through MGIA is part of Xavier’s complementary commitment to educating its own students and Gert Town youth, about ways that elites, throughout the city’s history, have profited in unethical ways from black working class culture. The MGIA program is itself an ethical practice that models ways of acknowledging and supporting black cultural production by supporting the communities that cultivate and share it.

Reflecting on the role of the MGIA and similar programs at Xavier, Bechet noted the importance of university/community cultural partnerships to New Orleans’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina: “You can see it one individual at a time.” For example, when Xavier contributed financially so Darryl Montana could come home and rebuild his house, “he had an ability to help the next generation … individuals [like him] have taken on the responsibility of passing on the values of this place and what’s important about it to them.” We saw an example of such locally-grounded, collective-minded values first hand when we visited Xavier’s newest partner, Jenga Mwendo, founder of the Backyard Gardener’s Network (BGN). BGN’s “Guerrilla Gardeners” project in the Lower Ninth Ward not only directly works to address the problem of “food deserts” in African American neighborhoods, but also facilitates discussions between community members, city leaders, and student volunteers about the role that gardening plays in community building and neighborhood revitalization in the post-Katrina city.

On Saturday, led by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Associate Professor and Interim Associate Vice Chancellor Cheryl Ajirotutu, we participated in UMW’s annual reception for their New Orleanian community partners at the U.S. Mint Museum. We met UWM students and administrators and had the chance to interview a wide range of UWM’s local partners, who have been collaborating on the University’s winter term course in New Orleans since 2005. We also enjoyed zydeco piano playing by UWM partner, Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes.

Later in the weekend, we joined Barnes and UWM, Xavier, and Macalester groups at the Vietnamese Initiatives in Economic Training (VIET) Center in New Orleans East where we participated in VIET’s annual Martin Luther King Day of Service. There we met Cyndi Nguyen, VIET’s Executive Director, and saw and heard about VIET’s thriving community health and cultural/economic development programs for youth and elders. Both the Macalester College students enrolled in the New Orleans and the Performance of Urban Renewal course and the UMW students working towards degrees in social work, as well as those who are taking Professor Ajirotutu’s cultural history course in New Orleans, prepared for their service at VIET by viewing and discussing the film “A Village Called Versailles,” a documentary on the inter-generational, faith-based community organizing of New Olreans’ Vietnamese community, which was not only affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but also by a new government-imposed toxic landfill.

The group from Macalester College included 12 first year Bonner Community Scholars enrolled in a course titled, “New Orleans and the Performance of Urban Renewal,” which was co-taught by Ruth Janisch Lake (collaboratory member) and Molly Olsen.  This intensive J-term (January interim) course assumed a human-centered, arts-based urban studies perspective on the continued efforts of New Orleans to restructure and redefine itself in the 21st century amidst various ecological, economic and political challenges. The course provided students with the essential critical, historical, and cultural framework through which to interpret various site visits and civic engagement projects with local artists, activists, and scholars in New Orleans. This was the seventh Macalester group that Civic Engagement Center staff member Ruth Janisch Lake has brought to New Orleans since January 2006.

Our team members interviewed several Macalester Bonner Community Scholars about their program’s practices of community-based learning and civic engagement. During their seven days in the city, the Macalester group connected with a Community Arts class with Ron Bechet and also learned more about New Orleans historical and ethnic geography with Tulane University Professor Richard Campanella. They visited Backstreet Cultural Museum in Tremé and this year participated in a second line parade with the Undefeated Divas in Central City. They also meet with a range of non-profit organizations and community leaders as they discussed issues of race and class in the city’s uneven recovery from Hurricane Katrina. As one Bonner student noted:

The course definitely expanded my awareness and deepened my knowledge about the communities performing urban renewal in New Orleans. I loved the way the week was laid out and thought it was conducive to experiential, meaningful learning. We started the week off with a fascinating tour with Tulane Professor Rich Campanella and really appreciated the information he shared with us about NOLA’s ethnic and physical geography. Participating in the second-line parade gave me a powerful sense of the importance of having cultural traditions to return to when tragedies strike. Visiting Robert Green in the Ninth Ward was another influential experience, hearing about the ways in which he has advocated for and helped to rebuild his community post-Katrina. I also appreciated getting to visit the Vietnamese community in New Orleans East, and seeing how incredibly organized and resilient this largely youth-led community was in working towards positive change. Finally, I valued interacting with families whose homes we installed CFL light bulbs in through Project Green.

To round out our weekend of research and conversation, IA team members visited the Ashé Cultural Arts Center in Central City to participate in a night of singing celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and to meet with students and faculty at Ashé’s new alternative college program—Ashé College Unbound (ACU). College Unbound began in Providence, RI, where IA Page Program Director Adam Bush worked with Big Picture Learning, a non-profit focused on developing internship-based curricula, and Roger Williams University’s School of Continuing Studies to create a student-centered bachelors degree program. In its first year, ACU has enrolled eleven students, primarily adult learners and longstanding community leaders, with a wide range of work experience and cultural development skills under their belts. The ACU student body works collaboratively with the organization’s advisory board and academic and community arts mentors towards a degree while matriculating in, and helping to create, semester-long workshops on housing, economics, culture, and education policy.

This spring, our collaboratory will produce a short video that will explore how these and other university projects have, in fact, become part of New Orleans’ cultural history by not only addressing historical inequity, but also by helping to create a new paradigm of the struggle for justice in the city. We also plan to create a white paper outlining some of the promising practices we see enacted in university/community cultural partnerships. Foregrounding how students have become more engaged, civic actors, as a result of their participation in these projects, we will also listen for different and surprising effects of their participation. We hope that the archival materials we create will be useful as scholars around the globe try to make sense of post-Katrina New Orleans.

New Orleans is an amazing first case study, which we hope to complement with work in other cities and with other institutions affiliated with our working group. Current members hail from Holyoke, Baltimore, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Providence, Syracuse, and Milwaukee. This is just the beginning!

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Photo credits: 1) University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Xavier University, and Macalester University students and the AC&CD collaboratory team at VIET’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, by Ruth Janisch Lake; 2) Jenga Mwengo, Backyard Gardener’s Network; 3) Ron Bechet, Micah Salkind, and Catherine Michna at the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Thank You reception for their local partners, by Ruth Janisch Lake; 4) Macalester College Bonner Community Scholars learning more about the environmental and human geography of NOLA at the Irish Channel stop on the city tour with Professor Rich Campanella; and 5) Dr. Cheryl Ajirotutu with AC&CD videographers, Hubie Vigreux and Alejandra Tovar, by Ruth Janisch Lake


HUD connects community development to philanthropic dollars

November 30, 2011 1 comment

November 29, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an effort to dramatically boost public/private partnerships and philanthropic support for strong community development plans across the country, the Department of Housing & Urban Development unveiled a new web feature to spotlight grantee and top-tier applicant efforts to create opportunity and revitalize regions, communities and neighborhoods around the country.

Featured at hud.gov, the web tool displays contact information, partnerships, maps and funders for the most robust proposals to HUD’s flagship community development initiatives, allowing users to easily find and support local transformation efforts.

“We know that there is an unfulfilled demand in this country for healthy, livable, and prosperous neighborhoods. HUD is committed to transforming how we approach community redevelopment to meet those needs,” said HUD Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic. “Instead of applying a one-size-fits-all design, for the first time, we’re seeking to lift up solutions developed at the local level that respond to local needs. This web tool will help the strongest applicants from across HUD’s programs to connect with philanthropic partners — private foundations, corporations, and family and community foundations — and explore ways to leverage federal investment to increase impact in their neighborhoods.”

“Now more than ever, smart community development efforts require government, business, and foundations to combine their resources,” said Mimi Corcoran, director of the Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation at the Open Society Foundations. “HUD’s new web tool facilitates these partnerships, helping people revitalize their neighborhoods across the country.”

The first applicants to be featured on http://Partner.HUD.gov come from HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative — a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s interagency Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. The partnership includes HUD , Education, Justice, Treasury and Health and Human Services and supports local leaders from the public and private sectors as they attract the private investment needed to transform distressed neighborhoods into sustainable, mixed-income neighborhoods with the affordable housing, safe streets and good schools every family needs. As part of the Administration’s commitment to a more transparent grant process, later updates will include information on high-scoring applications from HUD’s Sustainable Communities initiative and other programs to deepen the partnerships at the local level.

In 2011 HUD awarded more than $129 million in Choice Neighborhoods funding to 22 communities preparing to take on this work. To date, the grantees have obtained a combined $7.3 million dollars in leveraged funding — nearly double their total grant award – as stakeholder partners committed their resources to planning the transformation of their neighborhoods. HUD’s first Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grants — awarded to Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco and Seattle — received a combined $122 million in late August to redevelop distressed housing and bring comprehensive neighborhood revitalization to blighted areas. Thosegrantees have leveraged a additional $1.6 billion — more than 13 times their total grant award — including refocused and streamlined funds from private investors, cities, universities, and a range of local partners.

However, because Choice Neighborhoods is a competitive grant program, strong demand has outpaced available funding. HUD received more than 150 applications from public, private and nonprofit sponsors in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Due to the limited amount of funding, HUD was able to issue only five of implementation grants, and 17 smaller planning grants — leaving several strong applications that HUD was simply not able to fund and many more grantees eager to attract additional resources to their transformation plans.

In response, HUD is publishing, for the first time, comprehensive information about grantees and qualified applicants on an innovative online platform. The web-based tool includes winners of the first Choice Neighborhoods Planning and Implementation awards as well as high scoring runners-up from those competitions.

The http://Partner.HUD.gov web feature is intended to provide information funders and other local stakeholders can use to propel applications that HUD deemed promising, but was unable to fund. It will also offer communities greater access to work happening around the country and best-practice models that might help shape their efforts.

Sustainable Investing: Putting the Economy Back Together

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment
Muhammad Yunus in Houston

Dr. Muhammad Yunus

By Cliff Feigenbaum, founder & publisher
The GreenMoney Journal

These are trying times. It seems Washington politicians want to divide us over debt and spending, while across America people and businesses just need access to more capital. Each of us, here and around the world, has a role in fixing and in a sense redesigning the economy as economic and environmental challenges abound.

What does the redesigned ‘new’ economy look like? How is each person’s contribution valued? How do we bring humans back into economic measurements? A more human economy enhances and benefits our life and our environment. This new living economy includes personal wellbeing and a thriving environment as measures of prosperity. In the sustainable and ethical economy we are responsible for making positive impacts with our money.

While our occasional political votes are critically important in this divisive era, it’s our economic voting that occurs almost daily. As we shop and invest, each decision becomes an exercise of economic power.

New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman addressed some of these concerns in his June 2011 article, “The Earth Is Full.” Friedman asks how did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed growth, climate, natural resource, and population redlines all at once? Read it at http://nyti.ms/kkDVQS

This Fall 2011 issue opens with an interview of microcredit pioneer Dr. Muhammad Yunus by movie producer Holly Mosher. Next, Hope Credit Union CEO Bill Bynum updates us on what is and isn’t working in New Orleans. Then, as promised in 2009, we check back with Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman on the Coca-Cola acquisition. And for investors and especially investment advisors, we close with a report on the new GIIRS – Global Impact Investing Rating System. Also in this print edition is our exclusive mutual fund performance chart.

Here on GreenMoney.com you will also find a new article from Woody Tasch on Slow Money, the latest from New Resource Bank, as well as several other features, including our extensive Global Calendar of Green Events. Truly there are many important sustainable living and investing events going on around the world. From Impact Investing to social business, to SRI, to green building and renewable energy, there is a plethora of information on what it will take to create healthy local and global economies.

GreenMoney has enjoyed a summer of positive media coverage. We received online article and blog mentions from Fast Company, Forbes, Greenbiz.com and the Huffington Post. We also began our new ad campaign in The Nation magazine‘s “Reimagining Capitalism” issue and Ode magazine’s “Money” issue.

CBS Evening News discussed solutions to the foreclosure crisis using SRI and Community Investing, featuring Boston Community Capital and Amy Domini. It’s exciting to see these forces for positive change working and getting coverage.

We are in the planning stage for GreenMoney’s 20th Anniversary in 2012. Before then I would like to acknowledge Green Century Capital Management, the investment advisor to the Green Century Funds, who is also celebrating its 20th anniversary. Since 1991, Green Century has been dedicated to green investing, seeking competitive returns as corporations improve their environmental performance. Also this fall, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) celebrates its 40th Anniversary of influential corporate engagement.

Finally, I want to recommend a few of the many important books recently published: “Plastic Ocean” by Charles Moore; “The Bond” by Wayne Pacelle; “The Responsible Business” by Carol Sanford; “The Big Thirst” by Charles Fishman; “The Wealth of Nature” by John Michael Greer; “Climate Capitalism” by Hunter Lovins; “Locavesting” by Amy Cortese; “The End of Growth” by Richard Heinberg; and “Impact Investing” by Anthony Bugg-Levine and Jed Emerson. Also check out the recent films now on DVD, “Carbon Nation” and “Second Nature.”

In closing we want to acknowledge the recent passing of sustainability pioneer, Ray Anderson of Interface, Inc. Thank you, Ray, for inspiring so many of us. See the articles below from him and about him. Also take some time to watch his insightful talk at the 2009 TED conference we have linked here – http://blog.ted.com/2011/08/08/remembering-ray-anderson

Here is to all of us doing our part to better the economy and the world.

– Cliff Feigenbaum, founder and publisher, cliff@greenmoney.com

Rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast

September 1, 2011 2 comments
City of New Orleans montage comprised of photo...

Image via Wikipedia

By Bill Bynum
CEO of Hope Enterprise Corporation and Hope Credit Union

Posted August 31, 2011

The Gulf Coast is a unique region, built by a diverse population that balances a rich cultural heritage with a thriving business environment. And at its heart is New Orleans; a city that is truly unlike any other in the world.

It blends old-world charm with contemporary style. It combines a strong local flavor with global trade. You can experience the energy of a bustling urban center and the quiet backwater bayous that are only a few miles apart.

And it continues to live and breathe and grow and prosper after the worst disasters in our nation’s history. Its people and its heritage have been battered by Katrina’s high winds and rough waters. It has felt the effects of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It has also weathered the storm of the greatest man-made environmental disaster in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Looking beyond Mardi Gras, and Jazz Fest, and the Quarter, we see some things that provide critical insight into socially responsible investing (SRI) outcomes and teach valuable lessons to those interested in creating a more just and sustainable society.

SRI Investment

One of the most significant outcomes of Katrina, and one that continues to bear fruit, has been the attention of and support from socially responsible investors across the nation. Katrina turned hearts and minds to the need that has existed for generations in one of America’s most impoverished regions—a status that was only exacerbated by subsequent events.

Millions of dollars have been directed to emergent and ongoing needs. We see individuals and organizations consistently engaged in discovering what their deposits, donations, and program-related investments have done. The new awareness has provided an opportunity to broaden the conversations we have and to open dialogs that yield financial and social returns to Gulf Coast residents and to people who continue to be concerned about the area.

While a great deal has been accomplished, there are still years of rebuilding ahead.

Communities and families from Alabama to Texas still need the dedication of people engaged in developing SRI agendas and directing funds so the gains that have been made do not fall by the wayside for lack of resources to complete critical work.

Business

There has been a great deal of positive activity relating to business growth and job creation in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast in the years following Katrina. In the early days there were a number of specialized programs that provided incentives and low-cost financing to companies to help them rebuild, stabilize, and even grow to support jobs and the communities that needed employers, tax revenue, and the critical services they supplied.

SRI funding was critical to business redevelopment. A number of financial institutions, including HOPE, used SRI allocations to make emergency bridge loans available to small businesses. Investments made it possible to support microlending programs that deployed loans to entrepreneurs that would never have been considered for a traditional bank loan.

Several rounds of the Louisiana Business Recovery Grant and Loan program delivered grant funding and low-interest loans to companies who were rebuilding and helping the region to recover.

There are positive signs that growing small businesses continues to have solid support. Mayor Mitch Landrieu and community leaders are supporting a number of efforts that are bringing funding and support to develop businesses and support job growth. As part of that effort, HOPE is participating in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative, which is providing training and a funding pool available to entrepreneurs that are positioned for growth. HOPE is also the lending partner for the New Orleans Fresh Food Retailer Initiative, a program that addresses the lack of affordable quality foods that has not been adequately addressed since the hurricane.

But companies across the Gulf Coast are also facing the pressure from restricted lending due to the ongoing economic environment. And more entrepreneurs and small businesses were affected by the Gulf oil spill but did not receive the kind of support that was seen after Katrina. Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) will continue to remain a vital part of providing resources to viable companies that are not being served by mainstream financial institutions.

Nonprofits

The years since Katrina have seen an unprecedented coalition of nonprofit, religious, and charitable institutions working together to restore the region. Across the Gulf Coast, partnerships are have been created that have made a wide variety of successes possible. Funding activity, resource sharing, and policy advocacy are all areas that have benefited from strong involvement by a large number of concerned organizations.

Nonprofits have been filling the gaps left by private industry and government services. They have been successful in addressing needs for business development, affordable housing, personal financial services and counseling, and cultural preservation.

Of particular note has been the large number of interfaith endeavors. HOPE has seen leadership from a wide range of coalitions that include diverse constituents and represent broad geographies. The coalitions that have been built continue to provide services to the region’s most vulnerable families and communities.

Nonprofits will be an invaluable resource as long as rebuilding remains unfinished. There are still years of work ahead and that will require the expertise and services these organizations offer to the people in areas that have been affected by difficult times. We need to keep individuals and institutions focused on investing in the work that nonprofits are doing and the lives they are changing so they have the support to do their work.

Housing

After the hurricane, things started slowly on the housing front. Removing debris, insurance delays, construction resources, and incomplete building codes all delayed a speedy recovery. While the post-Katrina deficit remains in the thousands of homes, significant progress has been made.

A number of national, regional, and local housing groups are working to develop single- and multi-family homes for the region. Thousands of affordable apartments and houses have been constructed, often times replacing structures that were deteriorating and burdening families with high maintenance and repair costs.

Several high-profile projects have kept a spotlight on the rebuilding process and the needs that still exist. Brad Pitt’s Make It Right and Habitat for Humanity’s Musicians Village in New Orleans and HOPE’s Home Again program on the Mississippi Coast helped demonstrate innovative approaches to creating housing opportunities.

The new homes are often part of sustainable developments, including community services, shopping, schools, and cultural resources in the planning and development. There is also a heavy emphasis on going green: low VOC flooring, energy efficient appliances, recycled and recyclable materials, and environmentally friendly construction methods.

Blight has decreased significantly, but remains above 25 percent. Rehabilitating homes and providing affordable mortgages to homeowners is still a difficult challenge.

There continues to be a void of soft second subsidies needed to bridge the gap between housing prices and the mortgages that many people can afford. There are also thousands of rentals and owner-occupied dwellings that remain vacant five years after the storms because residents and landlords aren’t able to obtain the short-term financing to repair damaged property. While prices for livable homes have escalated, vacant properties continue to deteriorate, making the likelihood that those families can ever rebuild more remote.

Retail

Immediately following the storm, people had a tremendous need for access to their financial resources. The difficulty and confusion surrounding people’s accounts was made worse by the lack of infrastructure to access banks and credit unions physically or electronically.

Many banks and credit unions were closed or destroyed. Many people were eligible to receive financial support from government entities or insurance companies but were unbanked, leaving them without the account necessary to receive proceeds. HOPE and other community-based institutions were important lifelines that served as a depository for people who needed a way to manage their funds and the additional services that only local organizations were able to provide.

Funds from socially responsible investors were used to support emergency bridge loans to individuals who needed financing to meet immediate needs such as debris removal and water damage mitigation. HOPE directed millions of dollars to organizations and individuals who were able to quickly and effectively use the funds to mitigate the damage and start the recovery process.

These unique partnerships and innovative programs have continued to serve residents of the Gulf Coast region. There are numerous Individual Development Accounts (IDA) programs that are helping people build assets, often supplying matching funds for participants who are saving money, and providing them with the financial education to help change financial attitudes and habits. Organizations are working together to provide financial education that is more important than ever to families who have traditionally lived on the edge of financial sustainability.

HOPE and other institutions like it are also offering a payday loan alternative that rescues individuals from the high cost of doing business with predatory organizations such as check cashing outlets and pawn shops. SRI investments have supported loan funds and reserves to make this program available to residents across the city during the rebuilding process.

What people still lack is the ease of access to affordable financial services. Many bank branches have never reopened and some lower-income individuals don’t have a computer or Internet access at home. Promoting alternative banking solutions like HOPE’s mobile banking or shared branching options helps reach them where they are. HOPE is working with other nonprofits in the region to continue building its HOPE Affinity Network, a mechanism that delivers HOPE’s products and services to residents through employers, nonprofits, and religious institutions.

Conclusion

The Gulf Coast is steadily making its way towards a better future. It continues to need the support and attention of federal, state, and local governments; business and community leaders; religious institutions and social groups; and socially responsible investors and volunteers.

People often speak of “the new normal,” a phrase that does indeed have some validity. Some things will never be the same again. In some cases this is a great loss. In others, however, this is an opportunity to find a new and better way forward, – one that creates more opportunity and a more sustainable environment for businesses, communities, and families.

We must work to see that our future is given every chance to be a good one that considers the needs of all its people and provides a place at the table for even the poorest and the most challenged.

Socially responsible investors have meant a lot to New Orleans and to the Gulf Coast. Without people who realized that this area needed help that wasn’t coming from other places, the progress we have made would have been impossible. We thank you for your support and for believing in this region and its people. We invite you to experience the place we call home and we know you will see in it the same things that make us love it and keep us committed to seeing it prosper.

For more information on HOPE go to http://www.hope-ec.org

Article by Bill Bynum, CEO of Hope Enterprise Corporation & Hope Credit Union

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