New Orleans Ballet Association

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Dancer Abby Silva, a native of New Orleans, leads a master class during the Parsons Dance Company residency

Dancer Abby Silva, a native of New Orleans, leads a master class during the Parsons Dance Company residency in May 2006, funded through a relief grant by the NEA. Photo by Mary Strout.

For nearly three decades, the New Orleans Ballet Association (NOBA) has presented high quality dance programs to the local community and provided dance education for children and adults. Like most New Orleans arts organizations, NOBA suffered severe staff cuts and the loss of its office and performance spaces due to Hurricane Katrina. Still, Jenny R. Hamilton, NOBA Executive Director, believes it's important to resurrect the city's arts and culture as the city itself is resurrected.

"When I first moved here, people would tell me that the culture comes from the street and it doesn't come from on high. The arts are part of the identity of the city," she explains. "In addition to being part of the spirit, the arts first provide employment for artists, for people to live and breathe here. They provide an economic engine to the city. And when people are making the decision of whether or not to come back or to move here to join the rebuilding effort, it's important for them to know there are opportunities for their children and for quality entertainment programs, especially with so much devastation around."

Hamilton adds that restoring the city's arts and culture is important on an emotional level. NOBA has been able to continue giving free dance lessons to area children, using several satellite locations. Hamilton recalls seeing a mother cry as she watched her child take lessons because it was the first time since the hurricane that the child had smiled.

NOBA used its $20,000 NEA hurricane-assistance grant to support performances by the Joffrey Ballet and the Parsons Dance Company, along with education and outreach programs, for the residents of New Orleans. Each company had been scheduled to appear in New Orleans earlier in 2006 and willingly rescheduled after the storms forced the cancellation of the first half of NOBA's season. Hamilton compares the first night of the Parsons Dance Company residency to a rock concert. "The audience was overwhelmed and extremely emotional, to see something beautiful and be able to forget about the devastation for a couple of hours."

In August 2006, Hamilton participated in a strategic planning session hosted by the Arts Council of New Orleans (ACNO), with support from the NEA. (For more about these sessions, please see the interview with ACNO President and CEO Shirley Trusty Corey). "More than anything it was an opportunity to really think through with our peers what were the most important and pressing issues of the arts community," she notes. "It also was important so that the arts community at large, beyond New Orleans, will have an idea of what our challenges are here and what we need."

Overall, Hamilton thinks that the New Orleans arts community is "incredibly resilient. . . . The arts community has come back and come up with creative solutions for how to survive and how to address problems. But I think the arts community still needs a lot of support here -- it's a tough road."