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The History of the New Orleans
Jazz and Heritage Festival Poster
by Andy P. Antippas
You are invited to participate in an exhibit of mock Jazz Festival posters to run from March 6 thru April, 2004.
In the April 25, 2003 Lagniappe, with a glance at the Jazzfest poster of Michalopoulos, and in a moment of art critical wishful thinking, Doug MacCash observed:
Just imagine if the fest had chosen one of New Orleans’ more radical contemporary artists, someone who could breathe fire into the ubiquitous souvenir.
MacCash followed this comment with a catalog of some of our figural heroic fire breathers who could be summoned to the quest of revitalizing the moribund form: Gina Philips, Blake Boyd, Michael Willmon, Shirley Masinter, Alan Gerson, Willie Birch, Dona Lief, Robert Warrens, and Douglas Bourgeois.
MacCash’s reverie extended further to include artists who could “represent” jazz “as an abstraction”: Doyle Gertjejansen, Richard Johnson, Nichole Charbonnet, Louis Cruz Azaceta.
I know I’m just dreaming, but the Jazzfest poster could represent the kind of gritty risk-taking that made New Orleans music great. It could represent a dedication to bringing New Orleans’ quirky contemporary culture to a wider audience. Or it can continue to represent a play-it–safe commercial endeavor, dedicated to the ghost of music past.
I have to confess that when I read the article I thought it an interesting, and even audacious hallucination that would fall on deaf ears, like mine. I only began to think seriously about the potential of MacCash’s observations when Nique LeTransome, stretched too thin to put together a show at Barrister’s in March, suggested that instead he help organize an exhibit of mock Jazzfest posters in March based on MacCash’s article. Nique himself was itching to do a poster, and after talking to some of the artists Mac Cash mentioned—all of whom understood the good humored possibilities for both seriousness and parody, Nique and I decided to take up the project.
As it happened, however, during this period of planning I was asked to serve as a Federal “Art Expert” to help avert litigation by Putamayo World Music against Mardi Gras Records, a local company. Putamayo claimed that Mardi Gras Record’s Zydeco album cover design infringed on Putamayo’s Zydeco album design and their company’s “trade dress.” To make the story very short, our side, Mardi Gras Records, won. I spent a couple of months reading current cases provided me by Justin Zitler, the intellectual properties attorney working in behalf of Mardi Gras Records. All of this made me very mindful of how notoriously proprietary The Jazz and Heritage Foundation has been of their annual poster, and, that no matter how shape-shifting Copyright, Trademark, and Fair Use issues may appear to a lay person, they are mercilessly construed in the court of law—and, more often than not, the verdicts seem insufficiently sensitive to the First Amendment right of free expression.
I toyed briefly with the idea of discussing the matter with the Foundation, but decided that I would be handing them the proverbial can of worms. Interestingly enough, the poster publishers, Art4Now, actually responded to MacCash’s article; for at least a month, an opinion poll appeared on their website, with a link to MacCash’s article, entitled “What should future posters look like” (attached). The concept of the poll struck me as naïve and I’m not certain how serious it was intended to be. You’ll notice, for example, the alternatives they offer for the “feel” of the future posters are “Endearing” and “Challenging”—both words were used by MacCash—“endearing” to describe Michalopoulos style and “challenging,” the poster image likely to result from the artists’ MacCash listed--offered the two words as a definitive dichotomy to choose from is certainly like being asked if you would prefer a kiss or a cigarette in your eye. I called Art4Now to ask what the results of the poll were, but no one ever called me back.
A Brief History of the Jazzfest Poster.
Buddy Brimberg, a brilliant and memorable entrepreneurial spirit, even as an undergraduate when I encountered him at Tulane, suggested to the Jazz and Heritage foundation, in 1974, that they license him to do a poster as a fifth anniversary fund raiser for the 1975 festival. Brimberg’s company, ProCreations, employed two artists for that first “official poster”—Sharon Dinkins and Thorn Grafton. It consisted of an unsigned edition of 1,300 numbered prints. There is no record of the cost of the poster, but it probably sold in the $10 to $15 range. (It seems never to be remembered that the first poster made to commemorate the Festival was silkscreened in 1971 by Larry Bornstein and featured Noel Rockmore’s drawings of Chicken Henry and Sister Gertrude Morgan.)
The radical success of the poster over the years is immediately apparent from the number printed of Michalopoulos’ 2003 poster: 10,000 numbered ($59); 3,000 signed and numbered ($235); 750 with remarque, signed, and numbered ($595); and 300 remarqed, signed, numbered, and “transferred” to canvas ($895). I’ll save you the math, the total sales (and everything always sells) amounts to $2,009,750.00. This has been the publishing format and pricing for the last six years—clearly a big business. In fact, aside from the gate receipts, the poster is likely the Festival’s largest moneymaker. You can easily understand why the Foundation is so protective of the very idea of a Jazz Festival poster.
The poster started to become big business by the late 80’s and that’s exactly when the official linear descent of the posters gets murky. In 1991, ProCreations lost its contract and, at least for the moment, its lock on the poster. At this time, ProCreations, or at least some part of Procreations, is flying under the banner of Art4Now. If you visit their website (www.art4now.com) you will see images of all the posters (and publication history) issued to date. When you get to 1991 and read between the lines explaining the lacuna between 1991 and 1993, it is very clear that members of the African American community probably very rightly brought pressure on the Foundation to open the poster business to minority participation. ProCreations apparently made an effort to prevent impending criticism by engaging Richard Thomas (1989) and Louise Mouton Johnson (1990)—the first two African American artists to be commissioned to produce a poster. But it was too little too late and ProCreations lost its monopoly. ProCreations had already commissioned Richard Thomas to do a second poster for the 1991 JazzFest, but it was issued only as an unofficial poster (750 signed and numbered) and did not bear the “New Orleans Jazz and Heritage” logo.
The official contract for 1991 and 1992 was held by an unidentified African American company; but, for unstated reasons, the Jazz and Heritage Foundation eventually bought up and destroyed that company’s inventory of posters—“to preserve” goes the official line, “the value and integrity of the series.”
The contract for the 1993 poster was gained by Bright Moments, a New Orleans ad and graphic design agency which commissioned John Scott (9,000 numbered and 6,000 signed and numbered). Bright Moments also commissioned Doug Redd and inaugurated the first Congo Square poster. The subsequent Congo Square posters continue to use only African American artists—they are not as widely circulated as the official Foundation poster and many hold that it has served as a sop to the African American artists’ community.
In 1994, ProCreations was back in control as “creative director,” but now “in consultation” with IconoGraphix—“a minority-owned enterprise established as part of the New Orleans Jazz Foundation’s community outreach program.” This situation obtained until 1997. During this period the artists were Peter Max (1994), George Rodrigue (1995, 1996), and Francis Pavy (1997).
From 1998 to date, IconoGraphix was succeeded by Art4Now with ProCreations as consultant. During this period, they published Michalopoulos (1998), George Dureau (1999), George Rodrigue (2000), Michalopoulos (2001), Paul Rogers (2002), Michalopoulos (2003). ( FYI: Paul Rogers, BFA, “Paul is a prolific [Pasadena] illustrator and designer, with 23 years producing superb illustrations and designs for high-end publishers and corporations” (www.graphic-design.com/DTG/interviews).
It is very difficult, and perhaps merely academic to quarrel with the success of the JazzFest poster—it is, after all, claimed to be the most widely collected poster in the world. If George Dureau and Francis Pavy, among our more iconoclastic artists, would allow their sensibilities to be subverted and accept the commissions, we have to assume that it is financially rewarding, and perhaps deemed something of an honor to be chosen. Several artists in conversation with me have tried to draw a parallel between the artists chosen for the posters and the frequently made criticism that the Festival ignores local musicians, but a glance at the list of artists makes it clear only a few artists, in fact, have not been Louisiana artists.
What has rankled most, ultimately, is Rodrigue and Michalopoulos—three posters each. Certainly both artists have been admirably successful in marketing their particular “endearing” hobby horses—or rather, hobby dogs and hobby houses, and, not surprisingly, commercial success breeds more commercial success. In other words, the choice of Rodrigue and Michalopoulos was a no-brainer.
This is how the Art4Now website’s FAQ section answers the question:
How is the artist chosen each year?
We tried bribery, but artists rarely had enough money – so we settled on merit. Since the Festival is a celebration of local culture, we try to choose an artist born in or working in Louisiana. We favor artists with a reputation made over a number of years since they have proven that they can relate to an audience. We then look at portfolios and try find a connection between the artist’s work and a valid Festival subject. Sometimes we start with a subject and look for an artist who’s (sic) work is best suited to express that idea.
Setting aside the flippancy, the mind set here is clear—no personal artistic experimentation and no uninhibited individual vision—only what is familiar and formulaic and that which has already demonstrably proven salability.
Consider, for the moment, the answer to the same question provided by San Antonio’s Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in behalf of its Tejano Conjunto Music Festival. Their music festival was formalized in 1979, takes place over five days every May, and draws between 40,000 and 50,000 visitors.
While the music performances are the elements that draw the most attention, the Tejano Conjunto Festival includes much more. A Poster Contest, which is the means by which the official festival poster is selected, attracts larger numbers of entries each year. The contest offers prizes in junior high, high school, college, and open categories, with the overall winner receiving a cash award of $2000 and the winning entry being printed in a top quality limited edition.
• Artwork will be judged by a panel of some of the city’s top artists and graphic designers.
• Artwork will be judged on the basis of its graphic and creative interpretation of conjunto music.
• Works submitted will be on exhibit at the Cesar Chavez Education Building immediately following the judging from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
This is certainly the ideal solution: an annual competition open to Louisiana artists asked to reflect, visually, in their own personal manner, style, and medium on the music that continues to make our state so remarkable —in this ideal realm, three-dimensional work could be selected, photographed, and reproduced as easily as a painting or a photograph. This realm would be so ideal that even a two-dimensional (space and time) work, film and video, could be creatively used as a poster.
My proposal is that we pretend to inhabit this ideal realm and that you design a poster that reflects your personal feelings about Louisiana/New Orleans music, Jazz Festival posters, or the Jazz Festival itself, without making a single concession to the traditional Jazzfest poster formulas or conventions. More details and suggestions will follow the following review of the LEGAL ISSUES.
As absurd as it may seem, there are inescapable legal issues that Barrister’s has to anticipate mounting an exhibit like the one I’ve proposed above--issues, incidentally, that concern you as a working artist. I hope in my efforts to forestall any legal consequences which may face Barrister’s, I hope it will prove an educational experience for me as a gallery owner/director and for you as an artist, at a time when “appropriation” and “sampling” have become an acceptable mode of expression.
As I understand it, Barrister’s (not you) is potentially libel for “Contributory Trademark Infringement” by convening this exhibit. Furthermore, Barrister’s could be libel for “Dilution of Trademark” and causing “Consumer Confusion.” All of these matters are compounded by the proximity of the exhibit to the jazz festival itself. (Please see attached materials for details and clarifications.)
To protect our First Amendment Free Speech Rights (and our Rights to Parody), the Gallery will take the following precautions (tongue-in-cheek) in line with the “Fair Use” doctrine: (See attached.)
1. It will be made clear in every way possible that the exhibit is not sanctioned or associated in any way with The Jazz and Heritage Festival, its Foundation, ProCreations, Art4Now, or any of their affiliates.
2. This exhibit will not be open to the “general public,” i.e., by “invitation” only.
3. As a contributor to the exhibition, you will devise some clever variation or truncation of “New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival” which is omnipresent on every official poster and is the sacrosanct property of the Foundation—for example, “Jazz Festival” is generic and merely descriptive and readily available. The other element common to all the posters is the dates of the Festival—to prevent any consumer moron from being “confused,” please use “2005” as our “official date.” The posters in the exhibition will be, legally speaking, “parodies” of the original—your poster will be an original Jazz and Heritage poster, but not the original—(for an explanation of this contradictory statement, see attached.)
4. Non-commercial usage goes a long way to mitigate infringement and etc; but in keeping with the legal principles of parody—your poster will be for sale, but not for sale. Trust me on this one.
1. You’ve seen enough jazz posters to know what’s expected (or remind yourself at the Art4Now website.)
2. Your poster’s presentation for exhibit should be “camera ready,” i.e., the text (your riff on “New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival” and “2005”) can be printed (painted) directly on the surface or over-laid with transfer letters—this latter, of course, means that you are welcome to use an appropriate existing work of yours. The work may be in any medium on canvas, poster board, or whatever. Size (within reason) is of no consequence since, ideally, everything can be either reduced or enlarged to the common poster sizes.
3. Three-dimensional work, with the lettering, will be presented on a pedestal as if “camera ready.” Video “posters” should be looped.
4. While every contribution will technically be considered “parody,” this does not preclude “serious” contributions—we do, after all, want to show the Foundation that it is overlooking some excellent possibilities.
If you have any questions, please call me at the gallery (525-2767) or stop by the gallery. The completed work should be at the gallery by February 23-24 or, by special arrangement, a bit later.
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