Jim Bradshaw: Believe it or not, America really loves us

Some people raised eyebrows back in the 1960s, when Curtis Joubert began promoting the idea that south Louisiana had something special to offer and that people from other places would spend good money to experience it.

It turns out that he was on to something back then that business leaders and economic developers are finally beginning to understand, and embrace.

Joubert has been rightly acclaimed as one of the first government leaders in the area to recognize both the historic and economic worth of preserving and building upon the traditions of his community and the surrounding area. He figured out that the unique culture — actually cultures, plural — of south Louisiana is valuable not only because it is such a part of who and what we are, but as something important in the economy, perhaps especially in smaller communities.

As a legislator in the 1960s he was a staunch advocate for the preservation of the French language and culture. As mayor in the 1980s he helped to establish the Eunice Mardi Gras celebration that now draws thousands of people to the community each year, coined the nickname
“Prairie Cajun Capital” for Eunice, and led tough fights for the creation of the Prairie Acadian Culture Center and for renovation of the Liberty Theatre next door to it.

His concept had no name when he first began talking about it. Today he would be promoting the “cultural economy,” which, according to one recent study, generates more jobs in Louisiana than the tourist industry and creates nearly three times more jobs each year than the overall statewide rate.

That study, done for the Louisiana Office of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, defines Louisiana’s cultural economy as:” the people, enterprises, and communities that transform cultural skills, knowledge, and ideas into economically productive goods, services, and places,” and notes that “in addition to the core cultural segments of design, entertainment, literary arts and humanities, and visual arts, Louisiana’s unique culture is reflected by the inclusion of culinary arts and preservation.”

Translating that from bureaucrat-speak: We make music, food, and works of art and crafts like nobody else does. We speak with accents not heard elsewhere. Best of all, we just naturally make good fun and good experiences for ourselves that other folks love to enjoy with us.

Economic developers such as Bill Rodier of St. Landry Parish note that the cultural economy is largely made up of small businesses and that it enjoys a high degree of self-employment. The state study suggests that this may point to new ways to create and maintain jobs in other parts of the economy.

“There is much discussion of the form that cultural work takes,” according to the study. It is “project-based, independent, [and] highly fluid,” and depends on “networks of personal and professional relationships [and may be] a harbinger of future work modes.”

“I feel strongly that even though it is not a part of traditional economic development, the cultural economy is an important asset,” Rodier says. “Our unique culture is a natural resource that, with proper stewardship, will always be with us.”

The statewide study agrees: “Authentic local culture cannot be outsourced. ... It is [the one area] most likely to create jobs that will not eventually be lost to lower cost locations. Furthermore, because its production is so localized, it has a ripple effect on adjacent industries like tourism that benefit from people coming to Louisiana to experience the product firsthand.”

Key words in those last two paragraphs are “proper stewardship” and “authentic.” We have from time to time parodied ourselves in the past, but we’re coming to realize that we don’t need to do that. To paraphrase the movie line, if we just be ourselves, they will come, and come back, and come back again.

A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at jimbradshaw4321@gmail.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.

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