As students return to Tulane University, musicians like trumpeter Wynton Marsalis will welcome them back with some of New Orleans's famed jazz at an event at the university's cultural center tonight as part of Tulane's 20th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Week for Peace.
It's a bittersweet homecoming. The university was closed for a semester due to damage from Hurricane Katrina.
Marsalis, the co chair of the Bring New Orleans Back committee said that revitalizing New Orleans's culture is vital to rebuilding the city.
"The first order of business for New Orleans is to rebuild the levees and address the enormous need for shelter," he said. "But it is New Orleans' culture, its musical, visual, culinary, architectural, literary and graphic arts, that defines the City, and their unique cultural mix is what draws people to visit, live in and work there. Culture will stimulate their economic renewal."
The return of more than 10,000 students to Tulane, a leading university and an a famous city institution marks a turning point in since the hurricane flooded and destroyed so much of New Orleans. Yet students are now faced with a school with limited resources. The school cut five academic majors. Golf, track and field, and six other sports were suspended.
Kristina Kramer is an engineering student who has to switch majors if she decides to stay.
"I'm not really sure," she says. "I'll probably stick around for another semester and then try and find somewhere else to go to school."
Next year's crop of freshmen have to help rebuild the city as community service is a requirement for graduation.
Pitching in and helping reconstruct the city is now Marsalis's mission in life. He sees the culture as a vital part of the city life and believes that its importance should not be ignored. In fact, there are 10,000 New Orleaneans who work in culture and the arts and $2 million in funding will go towards culture.
"We have to restore the talent pool," Marsalis, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 oratorio, "Blood on the Fields," said. "To do that, we first have to provide funding to non-profit organizations. Then we have to assist artists to regain employment and provide loans and grants. We have to fix buildings and we have to tell the world that New Orleans is still a thriving city."
Culture, Marsalis said, is the soul and spirit of a place
"If you're in a hospital and near death you need spirit to survive," he said. "We need that culture."
If the city reinvests in tourism, Marsalis and the committee said, the investment will be returned tenfold. In New Orleans, tourism is driven by the arts and culture.
"As more tourists come to the city, they'll spend more money and New Orleans cultural institutions can spend more money, hire more artists from out side the city," he said.
"It's proven time and time again in the great cultural cities of the world like Vienna, Barcelona, Montreal spend $350 million on tourism and get back more than $3 billion. That's a great return on investment."