Helen Regis is a cultural anthropologist who has been studying the Jazz and Heritage Festival for 10 years. In some ways, she says, you can think of the Jazz Fest as a city.
“The people who build the festival every year — the construction crew, the electricians — feel like they’re building a city. They do. It’s this physical infrastructure. It has lights. It has plumbing. Sort of.” Regis says, in some ways, it’s kind of a fantasy city. "In some ways it looks like New Orleans, but it’s not."
This year in the Fair Grounds’ grandstand, Regis and her partner, Shana Walton, are exhibiting maps people made from Jazz Fests 2011 and 2012. It’s a project called Map Your Jazz Fest.
“We handed out crayons and markers and we invited people to map their perspective on the festival, or their experience of the festival. We didn’t want accurate maps. We wanted fun maps.”
What do these maps tell us about the festival as a city?
"We have sections of the city we relate to well. There are places we dwell, there are places we visit, or move through and there are places we might not even be aware of." Regis says some maps only have one stage — Congo Square or Acura. The rest is blank space, or a place to get lemonade or cochon de lait.
"It tells me a lot about their focus," says Regis. "It is a big festival. Some people do love to walk around it. Other people are more comfortable having the festival come to them. They bring chairs. Create a local community. Some have krewes — which are wonderful when you’re in them, but difficult when you’re try to get to the stage. They’re like our neighborhoods."
I think the most surprising thing is this is an event you pay to get into. In some ways it’s just a big festival. But many people think of it as something that affects who they are. Some people plan their year around it.
Regis invites anyone who finds his or herself in this city known as Jazz Fest to come on by the grandstand and map their experience.
This news content made possible with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.