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Southern Spaces
A journal about real and imagined spaces and places of the US South and their global connections

Rebuilding the "Land of Dreams": Expressive Culture and New Orleans' Authentic Future

Tulane University
Published August 29, 2006


Folklorist Nick Spitzer, host of Public Radio International’s American Routes, discusses the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans musicians and craftspeople and argues for their central role in rebuilding the city. He considers a repertory of New Orleans music filled with references to the city’s geography and past natural disasters, illustrating how contemporary musicians revisit and revise tradition.

Rebuilding the Land of Dreams


Part 2Spitzer discusses “The Basin Street Blues” and prominent representations of New Orleanians in the realms of work and play

Part 3Spitzer discusses how New Orleans musicians have drawn on their experiences of living in a flood plain

Part 4Spitzer explores the cultural importance of the city’s musical and building arts, featuring an interview with Eddie Bo

Part 5Spitzer offers an interview with Allen Toussaint, speaking to the role of musical creativity following Hurricane Katrina

Part 6Spitzer discusses the meaning of Mardi Gras following the hurricane, highlighting the presence of the Mardi Gras Indians

Part 7Spitzer explores how The Second Line fuses performance and space, work and play; features an interview with Gregory Davis

Part 8Spitzer closes by highlighting the movement between tradition and improvisation, features an interview with Michael White

Part 9Spitzer responds to questions following his presentation “Rebuilding New Orleans Culture and Community with Music”

About Nick Spitzer

Nick Spitzer, folklorist and anthropologist, is known for his work with community-based cultures of the Gulf Coast, American vernacular music, musicians, craftspeople, documentary media, and public cultural policy. He is the creator and host of Public Radio International's weekly program, American Routes, based in New Orleans and heard on over two hundred and twenty-five stations. Spitzer was founding director of the Louisiana Folklife Program and senior folklife specialist at the Smithsonian Institution. He has produced ethnographic films, radio documentaries and CDs on traditional culture, and he is co-editor of the book Public Folklore (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992).
With the exception of the Q & A session, the video of Spitzer's lecture was made at Emory University on March 9, 2006 in a presentation sponsored by the American Studies Program. All contemporary images of New Orleans are used with permission from Nick Spitzer, unless otherwise noted. For information on historic images, see Recommended Resources. Documentary footage included in Part 4 of plasterer and Seventh Ward resident Earl Barthé creating a molding in his workshop is courtesy of Marjorie Hunt.