Grant Promoting Renewal in Detroit and New Orleans Shows Good News Sells. Who Knew?

We often hear about cultural and artistic exchange programs between different countries, but what about collaborative efforts here in the States? Furthermore, what if the program aims to tackle some big, heavy issues like how communities rebuild after tragedy and how the arts can facilitate this sense of renewal?

That, in a nutshell, encapsulates a bold new performance and cultural exchange program curated by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO), which, with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will stage a jazz festival exploring renewal both in the Motor City and New Orleans.

Needless to say, it's a refreshing counterpoint to the age-old journalism adage that "bad news sells."

Both cities have recovered from their respective disasters. New Orleans, of course, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, while Detroit has been plagued by economic decline over a period of more than a generation. But, across the past decade, both communities have shown incredible resilience exemplified by strong-willed and dedicated residents.

Of course, there's another common thread woven through both communities, and that would be their respective musical legacies. The DSO's festival, entitled "A Musical Tale of Two Cities: Motown meets The Big Easy," will examine how these two cities have "used their legacy of unique musical and artistic culture to heal and renew themselves after economic and natural disaster."

The June 2015 festival will include a performance of Terence Blanchard's "A Tale of God's Will" to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The performance will encourage dialogue around both cities' shared experiences as well as "the role music can play in coping with and rebounding from tragedy."

At the risk of sounding macabre, other nonprofit arts organizations that operate in communities struggling with natural or man-made disasters should take heed. Philanthropic organizations like Knight — like all of us, for that matter — enjoy good news, stories of renewal and resilience. These stories are even sweeter when viewed through the lens of the arts. In that context, the DSO's festival hits all the right notes (pun intended).

The grant is part of the Knight Foundation's Arts Challenge for Detroit. You can read more about this program here.