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LAUNCH PAD | New Quorum (New Orleans, Louisiana)

"I witnessed first-hand the resilient spirit of New Orleans artists and in particular the musicians that played a central role in resurrecting the city. "

What is the road between a first idea and the launch of a new residency program? In LAUNCH PAD we are checking in with our Emerging Program Institute alumni to hear about the challenges, triumphs, and many surprises in the first years of running a new residency.

This month we caught up with Gianna Chachere, class of 2015 Emerging Program Institute Alumn and director of New Quorum residency in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

How did the idea for New Quorum emerge?

After college I was the cook at a small residency in Maine and I loved it. Later I was living in NY and produced a music festival in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina and realized I wanted to move back to my hometown. Then Katrina happened and I thought my city was gone but of course it wasn't - my community was there. I witnessed first-hand the resilient spirit of New Orleans artists and in particular the musicians that played a central role in resurrecting the city.

I resolved to found an artist residency that would serve those musicians in a meaningful way. My great grandfather was Manuel Perez, a New Orleans bandleader and cornet player who became one of the architects of jazz at the dawn of the 20th century. He moved from New Orleans to Chicago during the 1920s to make ends meet, but returned home after finding he could not live without his family — or his city. I wanted to create something to honor him and to support New Orleans musicians.

How did you come up with the name?

The New Quorum is named in honor of the art-collective/coffee shop The Quorum which opened in 1963. The Quorum coffee house was the only integrated locale in segregated New Orleans. A haven for open-minded individuals who supported freedom of speech and free association, the Quorom was a successful model for multicultural exchange amid the politically and racially charged atmosphere of the 1960s.  It quickly became a gathering spot for artists, writers, actors — from the “Free Southern Theater” — and musicians including country blues singer Babe Stovall and composer Jerry Jeff Walker. As an integrated establishment, The Quorum was a frequent target of segregationist harassment. In 1964 police raided The Quorum taking 73 people to jail and accusing them of things like "playing guitars out of tune."

Did you draw inspiration from other residencies? If so, which ones?

There are many - A Studio in the Woods, here in New Orleans, where I was a resident and Civitella Rainieri in Umbertide, Italy. I was familiar with traditional residencies but I knew I wanted to do something different that was about collaboration, engaging local musicians and a "revolving" door policy that would encourage artists to return.

How has New Quorum been received by the local arts community?

Artists work collaboratively with each other and with local musicians. Wadada Leo Smith conducted nightly workshops for local musicians culminating in performances for the public. New Orleans based cellist Helen Gillet recorded with residents Lisa Harris, Damon Locks and Nicole Mitchell. I make it a point to engage residents with local musicians in various ways including going to to hear music. I've been very pleased with audiences for performances at the New Quorum. They have been very well attended and appreciated.

The location helps as well. The New Quorum is located in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, historically the home of free people of color and racially mixed. The immediate area is ongoing reawakening with the addition of a new recording studio, Esplanade Studios, located across the street from the New Quorum, where Eric Clapton, John Legend and Harry Connick Jr., among others, recently completed recording and neighbors. We are just around the corner from the Joan Mitchell Center, a 2.5-acre campus which offers visual artist residency programs and ongoing programming for artists and the community.

Is it still called the WOmansion?! (We hope!)

Ha! WOmansion is an unofficial title of the house and I use to emphasis my commitment to supporting female artists. But yes it is still used, now more than ever.

As a chef and caterer by training - what is a typical meal at the house?

New Orleans food is very meat - and especially pork - centric which can be problematic. I learned that residents bring very different diets and pork is not a common protein outside of the South, so I tried to focus meals on fresh seafood, vegetables and vegan options.

For breakfast, shrimp and grits, and one dish that satisfies all is gumbo z'herbes, a vegetarian gumbo comprised of seven different greens served over rice, another big favorite was court bouillon, a rich roux based fish stew.

What do you think is the most unexpected part of the New Quorum experience for artists?

Interest from local musicians, the community and a profound sense of comfort. It may sound corny but I want residents to feel completely comfortable and joyous.

What are three things you are thinking about, asking yourself, or just stewing on these days?

I just finished an National Endowment for the Arts grant so I'm thinking about funding, how will the arts survive the current administration. I'm thinking about a workshop/performance scheduled tomorrow with the drummer Nicki Glaspie and hoping the post Mardi Gras crowd is well rested to come out. And finally I am thinking about the next round of residents coming in May 2017.

Having been through the process of launching a residency program, what is the one piece of advice you would give other new residency leaders?

Its SO important to define the type of resident you are looking for, your goals and expectations. Realizing my dream of launching The New Quorum has been one of the most thrilling projects I have ever done but it keeps evolving and there is so much to do. Once I was clear about what I wanted this to be, everything became easier.

Thank you, Gianna!

Read more about upcoming residencies at New Quorum here.

Gianna Chachere is a tenth-generation New Orleanian and graduate of Simmons College in Boston, Gianna Chachere served as Producing Director of the Hamptons International Film Festival from 2006 to 2014. During the last 20 years, she lived in New York and Los Angeles working with various arts and higher educational institutions including New York University, The New School, and the Two Boots Pioneer Theater. Chachere directed several film and music festivals including Slamdance Film Festival and Don't Knock the Rock Film and Music Festival in Los Angeles. Chachere formerly served as Director of Patois: The New Orleans Human Rights Festival.