Despite the financial success of what can be seen in New Orleans’ tourist industry, residents have continued to protest blight evident in their neighborhoods. Further, millions of people visit New Orleans with very few rarely (if ever) understanding the struggle of the city at large. This lack of exposure includes founder of Essence, Richelieu Dennis.
In one of the opening discussions of the first Global Black Economic Forum held at Essence Festival, Mayor Cantrell explained the false impression that dollars made from tourism would actually stay in the city. She insisted: less than 9 cents of every tourism dollar spent actually stays in the city of New Orleans.
The persistence of dissatisfied residents who were unwilling to accept the financial negligence evident in their neighborhoods was effective. Mayor Cantrell also discussed the $50 million upfront dollars that the City was recently approved to receive from tourism. An additional $26+ million was also approved for subsequent years.
During this conversation with the Mayor, Rich Dennis seemed to recognize Essence Festival could be better at acknowledging what was happening (financially) to the city – outside of the horizon of the tourist area. He vocalized being more intentional in upcoming Essence Festivals with how the experience could be broadened. He specifically discussed his desire to get Essence Festival dollars directly to entrepreneurs in the city of New Orleans.
Mayor Cantrell praised Dennis for his vision and spirit of intent. She joined his effort of finding ways to spread the festival’s four day impact to one that could last for 365 days.
Mayor Cantrell asked that everyone continue their support for Essence Festival – now called the Essence Festival of Culture. However, the voice of support needs to be felt on the state level. Over the upcoming years, she says the state will need to evolve and increase its backing of the annual Essence Festival.