Reconnecting: New Orleans, February 2022

It is February 2022 and we are back in New Orleans to research intersections between performance and emergency preparedness. One of the prompts for this trip, as well as re-engaging in longterm conversations with the city, was our sense that New Orleans has been and continues to be extraordinarily impacted by the pandemic. Indeed, the city feels different this time – businesses that were once thriving and seemed powerfully secure have closed, practitioners have lost their livelihoods and public health has struggled to keep up with the pressures of the virus. Yet, at the same time, as we argue in our interim report Performance and Pandemic Response: Invitations to Innovate, with the #SleevesUpNOLA campaign the city has responded with creativity, skill and performative acumen to the challenge. So, in part, on this trip we are interested to explore New Orleans’ processes and practices of pandemic response.

Families prepare for the arrival of Mardi Gras parades, St Charles Avenue, New Orleans, February 2022.

During our time in New Orleans, we are meeting with arts, culture and hazard mitigation professionals, surveying key sites in which arts and culture bearers have addressed the pandemic and other challenges that have arisen since the last time we were here. We will feed back our findings to colleagues in the city and also in the UK and internationally, to demonstrate specific ways in which arts and culture enable new and vital means of pandemic response. 

As part of our ongoing AHRC-funded project Social Distancing and Reimagining City Life, we expect to publish this work in briefing and policy documents that we hope will inform ongoing responses to the pandemic, and to planning for future responses to public health challenges. Indeed, it was gratifying to hear from the current Hazard Mitigation Administrator, Austin Feldbaum, that our research to date has informed and led to innovations in the city’s pandemic response strategy (conversation with investigators, 18 February 2022).

The work will critically inform our ongoing publications on the city, significantly a co-authored book we are developing with LSU Press to rethink city resilience through performance cultures in the city of New Orleans. In this book, we address the ways that challenges in a city are rarely neatly delineated. Of course, Covid-19 is a major and ongoing frame to thinking about city resilience at this time; but equally, New Orleans continues to grapple with the climate emergency, with underlying ‘stresses’ of race and economic inequity, and emerging ‘shocks’ such as Storm Ida (August 2021) that the city is still actively engaged in recovering from.

Blue tarpaulin protecting the roof of a house in the Treme, New Orleans, February 2022.

We are in New Orleans from 17th-25th February. If you are engaged in thinking through or responding to Covid-19, or other such ‘resilience’ challenges, through arts and culture, emergency or resilience planning, or public health in or beyond the city, and you would like to be involved with this work, we would love to hear from you.