When trouble brews in New Orleans between nightclubs and neighbors, there’s a new number to call.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced club owner Howlin’ Wolf and Rebirth Brass Band director Howie Kaplan as the first director of the new Night Economy Office at a press conference Monday.
Kaplan’s job is to serve as a coordinator between city agencies and hospitality, entertainment and cultural figures outside of city government. It’s a position some cities call the “night mayor.”
“It’s really to bridge the gap between our cultural community on the ground and the city government,” Cantrell said. “It’s about advocacy; it’s about building relationships; it’s about better understanding the needs of our cultural community.
“It’s about mediation”
With trumpeter and club owner Kermit Ruffins by his side, Cantrell introduced Kaplan to the audience under stage lights at dba on Frenchmen Street.
Kaplan’s office, approved by city council in December, will have an annual budget of $500,000 and a handful of staff.
While disputes between venues and neighbors have been a recurring political issue in recent years, Cantrell said the office is part of a larger effort to rethink artists as part of the city’s economic engine. .
More than a fifth of the city’s economic activity occurs after traditional business hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to Jeffrey Schwartz, the city’s director of economic development.
Cantrell and other officials stressed Monday that Kaplan’s role had no enforcement powers. Instead, Kaplan said, he hopes to use awareness to avoid conflict before building inspectors or police are called.
“It’s about mediation. It’s about figuring out the issues before it becomes an issue at 3 a.m.,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan was an active member of the National Independent Venue Association which successfully pushed Congress to extend a $15 billion financial lifeline to venues closed due to COVID-19 as part of the December 2020 stimulus bill .
Working in government, Kaplan said, he hopes to find ways to ensure local musicians make more money more reliably.
Ethics opinion pending
Although Kaplan needs few introductions, his ownership of the Howling Wolf could potentially raise conflict of interest issues.
The city is seeking the opinion of the state ethics committee, Kaplan said. He promised to recuse himself whenever necessary and said his office would not be in charge of funds that could directly benefit him.
“It’s about raising the level of the cultural economy as a whole. Will it benefit my business as part of this? Kaplan said. “Well yes, it should benefit all businesses as part of this. That’s the whole point of doing it all.”