Getting Artsy at Jazz Fest

17:30 April 18, 2015
By: Kimmie Tubre
Congo 2010
[Art by Terrance Osborne]

Music is by far one of the most talked about factors of The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. People from around the world visit Jazz Fest to indulge in all aspects from the delicious Creole cuisine, to the music and of course the diverse assortment of art.

What's rarely spoken upon is how lucrative it is to display and sell art at the Jazz Fest. Many vendors pay for a spot in one of the festival's marketplaces. Jewelry designers, painters, sculptors, basket weavers and many more skilled craftspeople come to Jazz Fest for a type of exposure that can certainly last for months even years after the festival. "It has been brought to my attention that the Jazz Fest is the highest grossing festival for art vendors in the world," Said veteran art vendor Varion Laurent. "It's profitable before, during and after the festival."

Many of the artists who sell their work at the festival are renowned throughout the city of New Orleans, but with the diversity of the marketplaces, Jazz Fest always has a fair amount of international artists as well. The Congo Square African Marketplace is always filled with national and international artists, along with a few locals. From African Dance to African Art, this section of the festival is by far one of the most fascinating. Previous Congo Square poster artist, Richard Thomas, is not only a veteran art vendor, but also a veteran Jazz Fest poster artist. "Jazz Fest has done a marvelous job including the locals with the Louisiana Marketplace," said Thomas. "While many of the contemporary artists aren't from here, Jazz Fest found a market for New Orleans artists once they realized we excited. It has brought the local artist to the forefront." Thomas is an arts legend in his own right. Not only is he a mentor to this year's poster artist Terrance Osborne, he is also the painter of the first double signed Jazz Fest poster signed by both himself and Fats Domino. That 1989 Jazz Fest poster still remains one of the highest grossed posters.

Along with the Congo Square Marketplace and the Louisiana Marketplace is the Contemporary Marketplace. Since the beginning, this nationally recognized showcase hosts a plethora of enthralling crafts such as; mosaic art and hand-blown glass, clothing and leather goods and handmade musical instruments. There's also a wide selection of photographs, sculptures, eclectic jewelry and contemporary paintings. "In representing my heritage for South Louisiana, I'm creating a new mosaic sculpture: a cowboy boot," said sculpture artist Christine Ledoux. "Art is very important and profitable at Jazz Fest." The veteran continued, "It provides a way for my work to be showcased at a prestigious event. People come from all over the country to Jazz Fest…They get the best of the best when comes to representing the culture and heritage of New Orleans."

It's apparent that Jazz Fest is by far one of the most well represented and lucrative festivals for visual artists and vendors around the world. What's most important is the impact it has had on the local community. NOCCA graduate and 2014 Jazz Fest poster artist Terrance Osborne knows firsthand how amazing Jazz Fest can be for a NOLA native. "The Jazz Fest poster… It's helped to give me international attention. It instantly sends my work around the world. I don't think that I can even measure that exposure."

Osborne, a young artist who has become quite the celebrity in New Orleans is currently on his second Jazz Fest Poster, and has two Congo Square posters under his belt. He worked concurrently with mentor Richard Thomas. When asked about working with his former teacher, Osborne stated, "It's an honor. It doesn't matter how successful I get, in my mind I will never surpass him because he made it possible at a fundamental level."

Becoming a Jazz Fest Vendor is very competitive. Many are grandfathered in and the waiting list grows each year. While this factor may seem discouraging, many artists profit heavily in other parts of the city during the festival weekends. Former Jazz Fest Vendor and artist Lori Gomez and local Frenchmen Jewelry maker Naomi Celestin both have vouched for the art they sell even when they aren't inside of the festival. "The exposure of my work alone was great," Said Gomez. While she mentioned that the festival itself was not as successful as she'd hoped, her sales afterwards have been beneficial. Celestin, the owner of ReStrung Jewelry looks forward to the Frenchmen Arts Market which receives good business during the Jazz Fest Night shows.

It's obvious that The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has become by far one of the most famous festivals in the world. While it's true that many wait all year for the music lineup, and stand in mile long lines for a slice of crawfish bread; the art, from the posters to the vendors, also plays a huge role in the culture of the festival.

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