In the days leading up to Mardi Gras, national media outlets turned their attention to Louisiana’s many cultural eccentricities: our food, our music, our creativity, things that come from an incredibly long-term investment that is hard to comprehend amid passing floats and while staring at the bottom of an empty Bourbon shot. But, in fact, this fleeting spectacle is just a synchronized demonstration of those many aspects that make Louisiana special year-round, none of which is born out of a vacuum in early January and somehow, magically, sustains itself after Fat Tuesday.
I can tell you as a former employee of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, and as a marketing manager for the largest, oldest book publisher in Louisiana, that the education, infrastructure and preservation required to make something like Mardi Gras happen is the result of long-term investment in our heritage and a long-term interest in supporting new creative enterprises.
Yes, it is a party, but beer and beads does not a Mardi Gras make. Rather it is the high school music teachers who taught the band marching by; it is the sensation of seeing dance in a public space; it is the skill that goes into crafting a float, the restaurant that serves up the best food, the hotel staff that makes visitors feel at home, the public transportation that gets everyone around safely, the historical understanding of where we came from, the well-trained security teams, the healthy children reaching out for beads, the generations of families that were able to make a living in the same city so they can camp out together, the revitalization of deteriorated neighborhoods that make parade-watching from any spot an enjoyable experience, the act of walking by beautiful old buildings that were preserved, the musician who has a venue to make money, and the art on the walls at the bar you’ll go to afterward.
All the vibrancy and excitement of Mardi Gras would be impossible with an investment in education, health and culture. So while budget woes can’t be solved by tossing plastic into the air or winning a patio beer pong tournament, I have to believe there is something to gain from taking a minute after the Carnival season to think about where all this comes from and what it would mean to cut into the day-to-day mechanisms that make it possible.
When we allow our legislators to make fatal cuts to these sectors, it cannot be made acceptable by packing it up in some justification for small government. These actions decimate the architecture that defines who we are. These decisions transcend political aspirations, because if Mardi Gras is any indication, we all trumpet the beauty of our culture when confronted with it, and the national media looks to us because this moment was so spectacular, so singular. If they knew, and we would kept in mind, how hard the fight has been to keep Louisiana spectacular and singular, maybe we would value the education and support which makes these few weeks possible the rest of the year.