The last time a woman composed the poster was in 1991...
The annual Jazz Fest poster is probably the most avidly collected piece of art in New Orleans. The subjects of the souvenir silk screens, from Professor Longhair to Pete Fountain to Dr. John, are our musical heroes.
And the artists who design the collectible prints are some of our favorite painters, from Noel Rockmore, to George “Blue Dog” Rodrigue, to Terrance Osborne, to James Michalopoulos.
That combination of iconic musicians and popular artists has made the posters irresistible. But there’s a problem.
Half the population would have a legitimate gripe about the series. If you scroll through the 58 posters that have been produced since 1970, it’s undeniable that the Jazz Fest self-image is disproportionately male.
Of all the 58 posters, only six artists have been women, and of all the musicians featured on the posters, women have only appeared six times.
The last time a woman designed the poster was in 1991, when Patti Harris produced an abstract image of a brass band. In 1990, Louise Mouton Johnson composed a wonderful split portrait of trumpet maestro Kid Sheik.
Before that, in the mid-'70s, women designed four posters in a row. The 1974 poster was composed by Sharon Dinkins. The '75 poster was designed by Dinkins and Thorn Grafton. The '76 poster was produced by Maria Laredo. And the '77 poster was done by Kathleen Joffrion. Back then, the posters didn’t usually depict specific musicians.
The last time the poster spotlighted an individual female subject was Soul Queen Irma Thomas in 2008. In 2003, Mahalia Jackson was front and center. In 1992, the poster featured an elegantly abstract, unidentified female singer, in '87 there was an abstract female pianist, and in '83 there was an unidentified female gospel singer.
In 1970, visionary singer Sister Gertrude Morgan split the poster with drummer Booker T. Glass.
And that’s it, folks. In the past 53 years, women represent a little more than 10% of the Jazz Fest poster subjects and the artists who’ve painted them.
So, we can probably agree it’s high time that the Jazz Fest’s official poster producer Art4Now attempts to achieve some balance.
Let's begin with the subjects. How about a Tank Ball poster in 2024, or a Pinettes poster, or maybe a Jelly Joseph poster, since she sings with absolutely everybody. Lauren Daigle, anybody? Rickie Lee Jones? Oooo, Ani DiFranco? Alynda Segarra? Maybe Amanda Shaw?
As far as poster painters are concerned, here are a few possibilities. Try to imagine how these women's work would translate to a musician's portrait or festival landscape.
Consider the talented street artist Lana “Crude Things” Guerra: Her painting of Tank and the Bangas would be a knockout.
How about figural artist Ruth Owens? If you want a poster with emotional punch, look no further.
Fabric artist and part-time musician Gina Phillips could bring amazing texture to a print featuring Ms. Daigle, right?
How about hyperrealist Shirley Rabe Masinter? She can paint anything. Imagine Masinter's rendering of the Pinettes in full color as they march on Mardi Gras.
And wouldn't pop artist Ashley Longshore's brushy portraits be ideal for a Jazz Fest poster?
Longshore said that in recent years she's been approached twice by Art4Now to consider creating a poster, but she declined. However, Longshore said she doesn't believe her unwillingness to produce a painting for Jazz Fest absolves the poster publisher of seeking other female artists.
“New Orleans is absolutely teeming with incredible female artists," Longshore wrote via text. "The city is pregnant with their energy. It seems so off that the Jazz Fest poster does not showcase that immense cosmic talent! Sooooo much talent!!! Jaw dropping, grand, awesome female artists that LOVE new orleans to the core of their soul. What is the disconnect?"
Neither Art4Now nor the Jazz Festival provided comment for this story.