Improvisation and Creativity: Pollan and Plotkin in Conversation Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind

Michael Pollan, the celebrated environmental journalist, essayist, and New York Times best-selling author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, joins the New Orleans-born ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin, President of the Amazon Conservation Team and author of Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice: An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Rain Forest, for a magical evening exploring encounters with unscripted reality.
Moderated by Randy Fertel, author of A Taste for Chaos: The Art of Literary Improvisation and The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: A New Orleans Family Memoir.
"One of the things that commends travel, art, nature, work, and certain drugs to us is the way these experiences, at their best, block every mental path forward and back, immersing us in a flow of a present that is literally wonderful - wonder being the by-product of precisely the kind of unencumbered first sight, virginal noticing, to which the adult brain has closed itself."

Improvisation and Identity: Exploring Race beyond Fixed Categories

Issues of racism and racial divisions in the United States are front and center in politics and are an increasingly fraught situation. But, race is not biological, it is a social construct developed throughout our country’s history. To be non-white in America means improvising; to pass is to improvise on thin ice. This panel explores the fluidity of race and the boundaries of identity. Panelists include Bliss Broyard, author of One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life-A Story of Race and Hidden Secrets, Dr. Shirley Elizabeth Thompson, author of Exiles at Home: The Struggle to Become American in Creole New Orleans and Kristina Kay Robinson, visual artist, author and co-editor of Mixed Company, a collection of short fiction by women of color. Moderated by Dr. Wendy Gaudin, author, historian and professor at Xavier University.

Foodways and Resilience: Improvising after Disaster

Hurricane Katrina wiped out nearly every commercial fishing boat in Southern Louisiana. Five years later, the BP oil rig Deep Water Horizon exploded 55 miles offshore, endangering the seafood that spawn in the Mississippi Delta. Losses to Louisiana’s seafood industry after that double whammy were estimated upwards of $1.3 billion (annual total retail). How do communities rebuild and recover food systems in the wake of man-made and natural disasters, especially in coastal communities like Houston and New Orleans, dependent on fishing industries? How did losses affect Vietnamese refugees who make up approximately one-third of Louisiana’s commercial fishermen? What are the emerging issues and challenges that affect immigrants who make our food system vibrant, diverse and delicious but are hit hardest after natural disasters?

This panel will discuss the impact of disaster on local food systems, especially upon the Vietnamese communities in New Orleans and Houston. Panelists include Donna Cavato, Chief Program Officer, Communities In Schools of the Gulf South, Inc. and founding director of the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, whose creation helped revitalize the Freret neighborhood post-Katrina, Sandy Ha Nguyen, Executive Director of the nonprofit Coastal Communities Consulting, which advocates on behalf of fishermen in coastal Louisiana who have emigrated from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, Andrew Lam, journalist and writer—and former boat person after the fall of Saigon—who writes about food as a way of acculturation in East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres and former associate editor with the Pacific News Service. Moderated by Brett Anderson, contributing writer for The New York Times and former restaurant critic and features writer for The Times-Picayune from 2000 to 2019.

Where Improvisation Lives:Urban Planning & Improvisation

Steven Bingler of Concordia Architects, Sue Mobley and Bryan C. Lee, Jr. of Colloqate Design and Paper Monuments, and Roberta Gratz, author of We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City. Panelists will explore what makes a city livable and inclusive for all residents in the age of climate collapse and super storms. Is a city best planned from the top down or does a livable city emerge from the ground up? Panelists will share their experiences as planners, designers and activists.

Drum Improv: Organized Chaos?

Join us for an “improvised” discussion with some of the greatest drummers in New Orleans as they discuss their passion for music and their craft. Contemporary New Orleans drum masters include Stanton Moore, founding member of the funk band Galactic, "The King of Treme" Shannon Powell and Johnny Vidacovich, founding member of the exploratory jazz quintet Astral Project. Moderated by David Kunian, Music Curator for the New Orleans Jazz Museum, who recently curated the exhibition “Drumsville!: Evolution of the New Orleans Beat,” celebrating the development of the drum set and evolution of drumming traditions in New Orleans. I can hear that heavy backbeat now…

And, for lagniappe, just before their panel, Curator David Kunian walks through the Drumsville exhibit at the New Orleans Jazz Museum with Stanton Moore and Johnny Vidacovich

ESPLANADE is a 2019 narrative film created by photographer/ cinematographer David Gamble and musician/composer Jonathan Freilich. Shot in black-and-white, it is a meditative journey down Esplanade Avenue, an important 18th-century portage route in New Orleans, Louisiana, running northwest from the Mississippi River to the entrance to City Park. Q&A following with Gianna Chachere.

ARTISTS’ STATEMENT: Convention persists that sound and image conform to the other with a decision made beforehand as to which is primary. This tends to preclude the possibility of conceiving the whole sound/picture field as one unified art object at conception. The difficulties are clear since there is usually a separate technical skill in the rendering of each form; picture producer and sound producer.

In this project we are moving in the direction of two fields collaborating to create a unity from the outset - through flexible dialogue along the way - in which the audio and the visual are transformed by each other. The collaborative process replaces the obvious morphing and non-linear editing systems prevalent in the digital technologies in contemporary production.

The image and sound comes directly from New Orleans, but in the way the subject is treated, the familiarity is revealed to have many normally unobserved scenes and organic abstractions. The citizens’ naturalness going about their daily lives is exposed in a disjointed harmony with the monolithic points of interest along the street and mundane urbanity is seen freshly even by those familiar with the geography.


New Orleans is full of incredibly gifted drummers, bassists and pianists, it would be impossible to pick one three-piece rhythm section and call it ‘the best.’ But when you’re talking about drummer Stanton Moore, bassist James Singleton and pianist David Torkanowsky, you could make a pretty good case that these guys rule the roost.