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Monday, November 12, 2012

It's your party and I'll cry if I want to: Why the St. Claude Night Market needs to talk to its neighbors

This past Saturday night, there was a community event on my block. Or at least that’s what the people there told me was going on. I wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t been home and wondering what all the noise was. My first thought was that Treme was filming in the lot across the street from my house, but then I realized there hadn’t been any signs up, nor any flyers stuffed in my shutters.

Even before I went to check out the event, I had a flash of resentment towards it, akin to the anguished feeling of not being invited to a classmate’s party in grade school. Why didn’t I know a planned "community" event was going on across the street from my own house? Who is organizing such things and not telling the neighbors? 

This feeling turned closer to anger when I opened my front door and found a stranger’s bicycle locked to my elevated(!) front porch, and my neighbor distraught at the possibility she might not be able to park directly in front of her home if she went out again. Far from lazy, this is actually a serious concern given her caretaking responsibility for her disabled mother-in-law (which necessitates quick and easy access to a vehicle in the event of a medical issue), as well as the very real threat of violent crime, particularly against women, in our city. 

When I went to see what was happening, I found that it was an art and food market coinciding with the monthly St. Claude Avenue “walk” amongst and through the neighborhood’s art galleries. Though the market was festive and interesting, I felt a little strange attending a party on my block that I didn’t feel invited to, or even informed about. 

It wasn’t so much that I felt awkward or unusual navigating the space of the market; it was more that I experienced it as an imposition on my neighborhood. This was especially weird because the majority of the market vendors and attendeees were young white scruffy people, just like me. As the presumed intended audience demographic, I was perturbed that I did not know who the organizers were, they didn’t seem to care to know me or even tell me the event was happening on my block, and so the whole thing felt forced. 

While I should have been happy that a normally desolate corner of my street was inhabited by brightly lit creative enterprise, I felt like a bunch of people just came, had their party, and left, with no thought as to their physical or psychological impact. 

This impact was echoed in my neighbor's concerns about parking, my feelings of invasion when I saw that bike on my porch (and there was even valet bicycle parking at the market!), the overall sense of disorder brought by the vendors' cars parked in all kinds of directions on my one-way street, and the slipshod approach to neighborhood ingratiation. It seemed that the people behind the event expected that such a thing would be embraced and celebrated by the "community," but they didn't even check in with their next-door neighbors about it, some of whom are artists and craftspeople themselves and might have wanted to participate in the market as vendors.

So, to the organizers of this market, I think that you should take a look at your goals and the realities of this city we inhabit, and come to a more sensitive threshold from which to make future decisions. You may be artists and entrepreneurs, social movers and shakers, concerned citizens and the like, but you are also a mostly white gentrifying force, bringing all the baggage that entails.

Yes, you bring your clever jewelry made from repurposed materials, but you also bring an anxiety to residents who do not know your intentions. You bring your “shamanic consultations,” along with a sense of unrequested spatial appropriation. 

What I’m saying is that while your aims may not necessarily be antithetical to those of the neighborhood, it would do us all a great service for you to come to an immediate understanding of how your presence imposes upon your surroundings. 

I do not object to you as individuals, to your DIY aesthetic, to your livening up the block with art, people, much-needed street light; in fact I was intrigued by much of your crafts and goods. I do object however to your lack of community outreach and to your overall neglectful attitude towards the very residents of the block you occupied last Saturday night, however briefly. 

Indeed, when I tried to look up your event on Facebook (which is not a medium easily accessible to all my neighbors, it should be said), I found that you had listed the address of the market space completely incorrectly - there is no 3600 block of Independence Street - betraying at best a sloppy approach to event-planning, at worst a lack of localized knowledge. 

I suggest for the next time – and I do hope there is a next time, as your intentions seem to be from a sincere and good place – you do some meaningful outreach in the neighborhood beforehand and gauge the residents’ mood towards your event: What are the concerns? What bothered us about last time? What would we want to see next time? After all, when you look around your event in the Bywater – or anywhere in New Orleans, for that matter - and the faces you see are almost exclusively white and young, you are not having a community event. 

I say this as a person who looks very much like you, who moved here post-Katrina, and who grapples with the very same conundrums of racial, economic, political, and social life that beset your operation. I did not ask my neighbors if it was alright if I moved to the block. But I do invite them to my parties. 

Sincerely,

Arielle Schecter

PS: Also, please do a better job of cleaning up your trash when you leave next time. I don’t think that organic empanada detritus was there before you arrived.

UPDATE click here -->

23 comments:

  1. There's a few things I want to address though ultimately I see your point and it's taken: the foremost reason that the entire block wasn't notified was because the event wasn't originally supposed to be held at that location. Four days before the event the city requested we move it from the corner of Press Street and St. Claude (where there are no neighbors); in a scramble to make the event actually happen, we worked with a property owner we know who owns the corner lot of Independence and St. Claude (which, as a vacant lot doesn't have a proper address, so in researching the best address to use for people to input into a Google Map we used Assessor's Office listing of 3628 Independence St...this isn't a lack of knowledge about local geography, I live two blocks away, it was a pragmatic decision to make sure the address will work digitally for anyone not at all familiar with the area.)

    While we did speak with a two neighbors (those most adjacent to the property), apparently we missed your house, thinking that no one lived there (I assume you're the second house in from the corner..?)

    As for inviting everyone to the party: while we did not do a good enough job of talking to the neighbors on the block, we did hang flyers in most of the businesses on St. Claude, including barbershops and cornerstores. We also outreached directly to all of the neighborhood associations in the St. Claude-area, including the lakeside of St. Claude, asking if anyone knew vendors who would want to participate and "inviting them to the party." I agree that in order for the event to be a full community event that there would have to be a better representation of the community, however, there's only so much one can do beyond an invitation.

    Next time we do the event, which is currently unplanned, we'll do a better job of talking with everyone on the block. It certainly wasn't our intention to make it feel exclusive or have it be a surprise. That said, please understand that the reason we didn't talk to the whole block this time was because we were as surprised as anyone else that we would be having the event at that space. We hope to have the next market at the same corner of Independence and St. Claude so when that happens we'll be out there knocking on doors and asking the questions that you mentioned.

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  2. From my neighbor, in response to this post:

    "Thank you Arielle. I wish with all my heart that they find somewhere else to go. I don't want to be bothered by someone else's retail event. These things are not community outreach it is for profit at the neighbors expense. It is rude and cheeky that I should be disturbed by these people."

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  3. Valet bicycle parking? Enough said.

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  4. Please go back to the lame suburb you come from. New Orleans is a lively, growing city. The whole "I don't want to be bothered" thing reminds me of some exclusive gated subdivision in Connecticut or even the North Shore. Perhaps, us locals don't want to be bothered by you!

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  5. Oh, and by the way, you add to the gentrification of New Orleans just as much as any one else around the area.

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  6. I read about this "Saint Claude Main Street" in the new Antigravity. The people who have fought for years to make a New Orleans screenprint shop talk about how sleaze has come to town trying to steal credit for other's work, these "non-profit" types who talk endlessly about how much good they'll do but are just here to get paychecks.

    Since then I have been looking at it online and learning all kinds of things!! About this outfit!

    I find Mr. Martin's response and his condesension a classic example. This kind of people don't care about our community, they just come here to get big money (that could have gone to REAL local stuff). Did you know Saint Claude Main Street was given a quarter of a million dollars, to bring "parkettes" to St Roch? WOW! Think what real good could have been done with that money if it had gone to help poor people! Now that is what I call a deserved reputation.

    "while we did not do a good enough job of talking to the neighbors on the block..." Yes because then you might have to talk to people of color who don't have advanced college degrees and aren't from NYC, and that's so awkward isn't it.

    "it was a pragmatic decision to make sure the address will work digitally for anyone not at all familiar with the area." Yes because that is who you care about, other white hi-tech transplants, not the neighbors on the block. Saint Claude Main Street's priorities are Clear!

    Oh you live two blocks away, Mr. Martin, since when? If you want to play a local card, sir, tell me how long have you lived in wherever you currently do, two blocks away? I am only a couple blocks from this myself, I go up and down st claude every day I saw no flyers of any kind for this little "shamanic" invasion. I guess by not being on Neighbor land or Facebook frinds with Michael Martin my family has lost our right to consider ourselves part of this community... we are not the FUTURE!

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  7. Thanks, Anonymous! Your comment is a really important and accessible articulation of that not-so-fresh feeling I've been having about the whole affair.

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  8. Arielle, You use the words "SHAMANIC CONSULATION" disparagingly in your list of insults that you feel the marketeers perpetrated. Shaman Master BeBop Robicheux is a healer and guide with ancestral shamanic lineage to pre-slavery Congo. He is a lifelong resident of New Orleans and brought his healing energy to the market to serve the community. You need to look a little more closely. His outreach there that night reached more than just the "white scruffy" people you saw. Most of the people who took cards from AFFORDABLE HEALING ARTS, where BeBop practices and consults, were the longtime residents of the 9th ward. Open your eyes and heart please before you criticize and prejudge. I am sorry for your neighbor though. I would be happy to give her a relaxation massage to relieve the stress she experienced by the parking. I live on St. Claude. I can go to her or she can come to my office. Sincerely, Maria Licodo, LMT 5016

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  9. I am a native. I'm so native that my family came over fleeing the revolution in Haiti. I'm from some original gens de couleur libres. You see my family helped to turn the lights on and waited for ya'll to come to these shores. I can clean a turtle and a nutria with the best of them. And yes I don't want to be bothered by your pop up festival. I don't want to hear your choice of music after working a 10 hr day on Sat. What I want is for you to seek your retail experiences elsewhere. Now lets talk about the first half of the 1000 block of Independence. One neighbor had a stroke less than two months ago. One of my other neighbors has a full time nurse Mon-Fri. She also has two registered nurse that visit twice a day. I assume she is quite ill. My family member is in at home hospice with a hospice team arriving daily to check her progress. The postman leaves for work at 4:00 am on Sat morning and I'm sure he would love to hear live music coming through his home on Sat night. As for me living in the burbs, honey I'm sure I would'nt need security because the neighbors would pass all their time watching my house and investigating how I got there in the first place. I would'nt know how to enter a gated community. Never been to Connecticut and I have not desire to. When I moved into this neighborhood having grown up in the French Quarter it was because I did not want to live in Disney. What I got was a crack infested block with my neighbors in full control of the activity. After awhile I got his mind right about my having to have peace and quiet. He understood how serious I am about this and I hope you do too. I don't want to fight with my neighbor, I love the diversity you brought with you. I love creative young people and wonderful arts you bring. Now I'm no pampered puss as you now know. I want you to be respectful to the elderly and I want you to let the sick and dying do so without you insisting on disturbing them and most of all I want you to continue bringing your gifts to my city. I just want you to bring them somewhere else. Please be respectful and move your venue. There are lots and lots of other empty lots. The owner doesn't live here and will not be affected by the noise and parking problems this will bring. Yes I don't want to be bothered and will say No this this no matter what you offer.

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  10. St Claude Main Street is very suspect, but Mr. Martin has nothing to do with it. He's a longtime resident and a respected and well-known member of the arts scene. More realistically, though, you moved to a city. Sometimes things happen in cities that do not please all neighbors, because lots of them live close together. Okay?

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    1. I did'nt move anywhere. I was born here so was everyone in my family. The arts scene arrived post Katrina. This is not an art form taking place this, is a pop-up festival taking place within hearing distance of my bedroom.

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  11. Maria, thank you for your comment. My point in bringing up the shamanic consultations was not to disparage practitioners or clients of such healing arts; it was to highlight the dichotomy of impact that an event such as the night market has on the neighborhood. I said in my post I appreciate the liveliness and creativity that the market brought to my block, but I absolutely do not think that it was an organic outgrowth of the neighborhood. I question the intentions of the organizers, who, I would argue, actively excluded the residents (some of them artists themselves) of the very block where they had their - as my neighbor aptly described it - retail event.

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  12. Whine, whine, whine. You are not entitled to a parking space in front of your house. Difficulty in finding a parking space is a hallmark of a vital and functioning city. Density is good. Public transport is good. If you drive maybe you'll have to walk a couple blocks from your car to your house. This is not a bad thing. Bikes locked to your porch for a couple hours is not a bad thing. Bikes are good for a city. Let's have bikes strapped to every pole and tree and railing on every block! You are not entitled to a personal notice every time there is an event on St. Claude Avenue. Hoards of people wandering from gallery to gallery on a Saturday night once a month is a really good thing. There are lots of things going on in a big city. Enjoy them or ignore them, it's your choice. Lively events on the street are so much better than drug dealers lurking in dark corners. If there are issues with garbage and noise then engage with the organizers. If you care so much you could even get involved with the event to make it better. Or you could even start your own event that plays out just the way you want it to. But most of all stop your ridiculous whining!!! (scotty: sidearmgallery@yahoo.com)

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    1. My grandmother use to say "lets try the spirit by the spirit" Now this is good for the community you say? Ok let find out what the rules are for selling food that has not been cooked in a commerical kitchen with a health certificate? Were those lights strung by a licensed electrician? Remember typhoid Mary was a cook. I cannot ignore this but what I can do is get so involved to help make sure everyone is following the rules. What about IRS and unreported income. I don't want fight with my neighbors, I just want them to party like rock stars somewhere else

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  13. Thank you for your comment, Scotty. As I said in my post, I think it is wonderful that there are arts events going on in my neighborhood. I think it is a positive change to the usual scary nighttime desolation to have have lots of people walking up and down St. Claude Avenue enjoying galleries and food trucks.

    My objection to this event is that it was a reckless use of space that EXCLUDED neighborhood residents, instead of included them. You are correct in that I am not entitled to a personal notice of events on St. Claude Avenue. But why shouldn't I get one if I am going to be directly impacted by something billed as a community event in my own community? Even "Treme" crews flyer houses days in advance of filming, and have been relatively responsive to complaints of excessive noise & traffic in the neighborhood.

    Similarly, I agree that public transport and bicycles are also good. I am a bike-rider myself, but I do not chain my bicycle to others' homes, in the same way that I do not park my car in others' driveways. That's just proper etiquette.

    You accuse me of not having engaged with the night market organizers. The only reason I know who are the organizers is because I reached out to them with the above article. They did not solicit my feedback before, during, or after the event. Indeed, the organizers sent an apology letter to residents of my block - after my blogpost got circulated more widely online - because they realized they were in the wrong. I hope they were being sincere with their response, but it remains to be seen.

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  14. New Orleans you gotta love Her and we all do, just differently thats what makes Her so great

    Arielle contact me @ facebook.com/shamanicwellnessservices and get a free Wellness Counseltation (did I spell it right this time)
    Thanks Marie for the heads-up
    Good Job Michael, love you boo
    Anonymous take your medication and have another PBR
    Love yall all bye

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  15. More bigger better and more grant-funded Night Market coming soon??? They want to raise $7500 to hire a NIGHT MARKET MANAGER. Money, money, money!

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/323678840/night-market-on-st-claude

    What happened to that $250,000 from ARTPLACE that Michael Martin got? I guess it just goes to pay his salary and nothing else, due to "grant restrictions."

    "Big thanks... to Neighborland for providing the grant to fund the creation of the video." Further proof the organizations are in bed together, although Christine P Horn got attacked for daring to suggest that possibility.

    "The success of the market has been recognized by local and national publications, including DETAILS Magazine..."

    How weird that they don't link to this blog post, which is by far the most discussion & publicity the night market has gotten locally.

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  16. I locked up my bike to a porch, iron wrought, so that was probably me sorry. Most people dont care during parades or block parties or whatever I was just trying to lock it up somewhere sturdy and safe. You can park your bike on my porch any time and if its causin trouble Ill leave you a little note.

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    1. I'm not mad at ya! Just wasn't expecting it because like I said, I had no notice about the event taking place. Also, there was bike valet parking there, so maybe check that out next time.

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  17. I find interesting that Neighboland lists the "St. Claude Night Market" as an "accomplishment" on its website... Really? How so? http://handbook.neighborland.com/make-things-happen-st-claude-night-market/

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  18. If an empty lot away from people's houses could be found for the market, would that work? If a job is created for a Night Market Manager, would that be a good thing? I definitely believe in keeping an eye on any new group who comes to a neighborhood to "help," God knows we've been ripped off by everyone from Blakely on down ... but could we do some due diligence and find out how money is being spent before we start accusing people? The grant disbursement is just getting started. A bunch of people have applied for money, friends and locals including Mardi Gras Indians and projects teaching art to local kids, so let's see how that plays out. If you don't want the market in front of your house, by all means get it to move. But if it's a good market, maybe don't kill it outright. Those small "retailers" are hustling to keep food on the table too, I'd bet. I agree those Neighborland bulletin boards "I wish this was..." are silly, so don't participate. Ask them nicely to do a project that really helps people or be "neighbors" someplace else.

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  19. Thank you for writing this. Obviously it's a contentious issue to grapple with and you were able to put many of my frustrations into words. The blind unacknowledgement of privilege and how it enables white transplants to take up space is hideous (this is coming from a white transplant who obviously strugggles with what this means, too).

    I honestly don't get it. Watching the video of that kickstarter made me feel speechless/like I'm missing something. It's like an advertisement for American Apparel or Urban Outfitters. Everyone is so hip and pretty and 23??? Gag.

    To be clear- I don't think a market selling local goods is inherently a bad thing. I love buying things! If I had the cash, I likely would shop there! My feelings of revulsion stem from the consistent lack of accountability and out of touch attitudes. As another commenter pointed out- Michael Martin's rebuttal to the fake address and the ability of people to "plug into the site digitally" just further illustrates this. What a community event!

    Anyway, enough ranting. Thanks for posting.

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