In late 2005, Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis came to New Orleans Habitat with an idea. Along with NOAHH executive director Jim Pate, they created the concept of Musicians’ Village, a neighborhood designed to preserve the musical heritage of New Orleans, past, present, and future. Over the course of five years, a vibrant, colorful neighborhood was built with a special focus on the musical community of New Orleans.
“This is very exciting because it uses the Habitat model – building homes and communities – and takes it another step, to helping hope for the future,” said Harry Connick, Jr. “Children will grow up in the neighborhoods, in a safe and secure environment, and at the same time have the opportunity to become a part of the musical and cultural scene of New Orleans.”
New Orleans Habitat’s Musicians’ Village consists of 72 single-family homes, five elder friendly duplexes, a toddler-friendly pocket park and the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.
“We believe this will help breathe life into an historic New Orleans neighborhood suitable to the return of our valuable musician families,” said Jim Pate.
The Village sits upon an 8.2 acre tract of land that was the former site of Kohn Junior High School. New Orleans Habitat for Humanity purchased the property from the Orleans Parish School immediately following Hurricane Katrina. Over 40,000 volunteers worked with Habitat construction leaders to build these homes. The project began as a response to Hurricane Katrina, a way to fight the threat to the culture of New Orleans caused by the flooding of 2005. As the scope of the project became clear, NOAHH brought in partners like Baptist Crossroads to help make it a reality.
The Village was made possible by the tireless efforts of Habitat volunteers and the sustained support from many New Orleans Habitat for Humanity donors including Dave Matthews Band, Dwayne Wade Foundation, National Association of Realtors, Phil Mickelson, New Trier High School, Texas Roadhouse, Bob and Suzanne Wright, ASI, and Baptist Crossroads.
“I have a deep sense of personal satisfaction as I see people coming and going in Musicians’ Village,” said David Crosby of Baptist Crossrounds. “The children who live there have never previously slept in a home their family owned. We helped make homeownership possible for their families. Some of those children previously lived in substandard housing. Now they go home to a clean and safe environment with all utilities working. Their economic future is significantly improved. They have a real chance at the American dream.”
Baptist Crossroads was involved with the project before it ever began. Before Hurricane Katrina, the organization committed to helping NOAHH build 40 homes. The project had yet to begin before the storm hit, and so when the Musicians’ Village project began to take shape, Baptist Crossroads was a natural fit as a partner. The ministry sent over 6,000 volunteers in the first year alone, and the organization helped sponsor 50 homes.
Marsalis Center for Music
The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music serves as the cornerstone of the Musicians’ Village and is dedicated to the education and development of the next generation of New Orleans music enthusiasts and the preservation of New Orleans unique musical heritage. The Center is named for the patriarch of the Marsalis clan, Ellis Marsalis, a modern jazz pioneer and native New Orleanian.
With its intimate performance space, recording facility, classrooms and computer facilities, the Center provides a range of musical instruction and cultural enrichment programs for the area’s students. Equally important, its state-of-the-art performance space, recording facility and computer technology, and the production and professional development training provided by Center staff, is available to Village residents, the many talented artists who claim the surrounding Ninth Ward as home and ultimately all of New Orleans. The Center is both a gathering place for Village residents to address community issues and a home base where diverse creators can realize their visions. “We intend to connect the art forms,” Ellis Marsalis emphasizes, “music and theater, music and dance, including hip hop, films and the visual arts. The physical space and resources of the Center are fantastic.”