Mayor Freddie DeCourt’s recently unveiled Master Plan projects have unleashed a series of debates and discussions among New Iberia residents, but one theme seems to be continually at the forefront of many minds in the city.
The mayor’s Master Plan was created to build a list of a series of small, shovel-ready projects that the city administration will begin to tackle to help not only the National Historic District of New Iberia, but also each of the city’s six districts individually.
For many of the district plans, it seems an emphasis on public art and local beautification was at the forefront of the mayor’s mind as he envisioned what a rejuvenated New Iberia would look like.
Some have not liked this. Why are murals and museums being talked about when what we need is roads and public safety? The city administration has been asked this question several times, and responded by saying there simply aren’t the same amount of grants for infrastructure projects as there are for cultural projects. If there were, DeCourt has said several times, he would be going after them too.
But while that does answer the question, it seems many still need to be convinced about the benefits of more beautification of New Iberia.
While it may not seem intuitive, there is a case to make for art and culture creating a more economically-friendly environment. Any developer that comes to New Iberia will be scoping out the city he wants to invest in, and a city that has murals and signage will assist in creating a meaningful experience for those investors. To put it another way, why should developers care about a city when the residents of that city don’t?
New Iberia is particularly poised to benefit from that fact. A city that inherited the legacy of George Rodrigue, James Lee Burke and Bunk Johnson is a city that has a lot of cultural capital at hand that it can invest in. These are all world-famous artists that New Iberia is right to proudly display downtown.
In other words, there are a lot of stories to tell in New Iberia, and everyone from tourists to entrepreneurs would be interested in those stories. The history of the West End or Acadian Acres all have their stories to be told, and public art is the best way to get them across.
Downtown New Iberia has already been doing this. Church Alley, which was an empty patch of land a few years ago, now has inviting lighting and utility box wraps that make a walk in the area that much more enjoyable.
And while many local residents may just drive past the Blue Dog mural at George Rodrigue Park, the sculpture might cause a tourist to stop their car and take a closer look.
These are small improvements that can pay a big dividend at the end of the day. While we are all aware of the big problems in the city, there is something to be said about making tiny improvements that increase the quality of life for everyone.