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37 YEARS OF MUSIC TO THE EYES:™
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE JAZZ FESTIVAL POSTER
The New Orleans Jazz Festival Poster was created by ProCreations Publishing Company in 1975 as a fifth anniversary fundraiser for the non-profit New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. But it took some detours and a bit of convincing before this now-legendary art print series got off the ground.
Bud Brimberg, ProCreations' founder, was in his last year of law school at Tulane University and, casting about for something else to study, cross-registered at the Tulane Business School in the only course offered to students with no business school background: Entrepreneurship. While others in the class built computer models of non-existent businesses, Brimberg asked if he could start a real business. "That's highly unorthodox," the professor replied, relenting when he was reminded that the course was about starting a business.
Brimberg's original idea was to record the gospel tent and release an album of music that, at that time, had little popular exposure. He approached George Wein, Executive Producer of the Festival, and asked what it would take. Wein gave Brimberg a dose of reality saying, "Unless you can track down, sign and pay hundreds of group managers, dozens of record companies, and hundreds more singers and musicians in these groups and their agents...you won't be recording anyone."Brimberg was deterred by the monumental task of coordinating all the people who had to sign on and figuring out how much to pay each, let alone where the money would come from. But he still had to submit a project for school, so he tried to conceive another business around the then small, four year-old Festival. In what was a seemingly unrelated personal endeavor, he was also converting his living room back from its use as a photo studio and searching for pictures for these walls.
"In those days, the choice was between a cheap offset poster of a fleur-de-lis with photos of Jackson Square, the Superdome and other tourist images or a $2,000 Picasso etching." Brimberg recalls. Why wasn't there something affordable yet artistically valid and printed to an art standard? The answer became obvious as Brimberg investigated: art was rare; good art even rarer. Wealthy people paid up for art they valued, promoted by a network of dealers who explained this esoteric business to them. For the rest of the market, there were tourist posters and "decorator" art, mostly without artistic interest. There had to be a middle ground, Brimberg thought-affordable valid art, produced to museum standards. He set about trying to create a product that fit these criteria. Posters were a poor man's art in the 60's, used to entice people to concerts - sort of like one-page comic books, but young people had adopted them as art in their homes. Few, other than works by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and a handful of others, were taken seriously as art. Brimberg's vision was different.
Afraid of another George Wein reality check, he approached Quint Davis, the Festival's other producer. "We already have a poster," said Davis, pointing to a black and pink offset print stapled to telephone poles and listing the acts appearing at the Festival. Brimberg explained that his would be a numbered, limited-edition silk-screen and showed Davis pictures of classic posters produced almost a hundred years before. Davis was unmoved until Brimberg said, "I'll pay you a percentage of gross from the first dollar I take in. You have no risk and will make money even if I fail." The two shook hands.
Brimberg engaged a Tulane architecture student to format the Festival's logo into a poster in the art nouveau style. He hired a local printer to hand-pull the edition of 1,000 prints on rice paper Brimberg bought at Dixie Art Supply. The printer, the printer's girlfriend, the designer and Brimberg worked nights and weekends for a month mixing inks and pulling prints. Brimberg took the first precious posters to the Festival and explained to anyone who would listen what a silk-screen print was and why it was such a good deal at $3.95. He manned the booth himself with a friend. When Brimberg took a stack of 300 posters onto the riverboat for a night concert, a drunken patron baptized them with warm beer. Brimberg rushed back to the printer to print their replacements.
No art gallery wanted to handle a poster. Frame shops weren't used to carrying art inventory, and didn't want to take the risk. Souvenir shops thought the prints too pricey. Brimberg made them a risk-free consignment offer. To his surprise, when he returned after the Festival to collect prints or money, some stores reordered. Brimberg's four-month effort yielded a profit of less than $500 but an "A" in the course. Collectors now pay over $2,000 for a copy of this first poster - when they can find one. Brimberg doesn't even have one.
The poster was never meant to be a series, but innovation and luck propelled this modest project into the most collected poster in the world and a major source of funding for the Foundation. In 1976, Brimberg, who had by then moved to San Francisco to take the California bar exam, was asked by Davis to come back and make another one. The chance to return to New Orleans and postpone getting a real job appealed to him. To try to get revenues up and justify the risk and time involved, an artist-signed edition of numbered posters was added that year to the unsigned, numbered edition. In 1977, the unsigned edition was expanded to meet demand. By 1980, the poster had become so famous the Library of Congress chose it as the cover of their Quarterly Journal.
Over the years the poster became a cherished part of the Festival, picturing its many aspects. For the 20th anniversary of the Festival in 1989, ProCreations honored the contributions of Antoine "Fats" Domino with the first of its Performer series. In addition to the signed and unsigned editions, 500 numbered prints were signed by Fats and the artist, Richard Thomas. In subsequent years, this evolved into some artists "remarquing" a select few prints with individually done drawings. The Fat Man returned in 2006 to remind us that what we held dear in New Orleans culture endured. The 1994 edition for the 25th anniversary marked the first commission given to an internationally renowned artist, resulting in Peter Max's diptych of past and present Jazz Festival greats. Appearing on the poster since then have been Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Professor Longhair, Al Hirt, Wynton Marsalis, Mahalia Jackson, Harry Connick, Jr., the inventor of New Orleans Jazz, Buddy Bolden, Louisiana's contribution to the birth of rock and roll, Jerry Lee Lewis and Irma Thomas, New Orleans' Soul Queen by artists including Rodrigue, Michalopoulos, Dureau, Pavy, Rogers, Hemmerling and Bourgeois, among others.
1994 also saw the Congo Square poster, which had previously been published by others, brought into the same tent. Since then, the Congo Square poster has grown into a distinguished and sought-after series in its own right; showcasing affordable, hand-crafted silk-screen editions by African-American masters, whose prints usually cost thousands of dollars. Artists in this series have included Elizabeth Catlett, Benny Andrews, Bill Pajaud, George Hunt, James Denmark, Richard Thomas (the first artists to do prints in both series), Terrance Osborne and Margaret Slade Kelley. Both poster series have thrived through continued innovation that engages collectors' imaginations.
Opening day of each year's Festival sees throngs of collectors sprinting for the poster tent and the poster usually selling out before the Festival's end. The editions have grown in an attempt to meet demand and to maintain the original promise of providing affordable, collectible art. Despite this, collectors quickly bid up the price of each year's poster. Within a few years of release, most posters command several times their publication price in the secondary market. Additional collectibles have been added over the years: in 1980, PosterCards™ - 4" x 6" color postcard reproductions; in 1981, Festival-inspired Hawaiian-style HowAhYa™ Shirts; in 1998, ceramic PosterTiles™ an expanded BayouWear® clothing line in 1999, including aprons, shorts, vests, skirts, sundresses, second line umbrellas and body wraps; and, in 2004 ceramic FabTiles™ engineered so when installed on a wall they provide a seamless expanse of the New Orleans-themed BayouWear® fabric motifs. In 1998 availability of Festival collectibles went global with the introduction of art4now.com which helped reduce the opening day frenzy for those in the know. After Katrina, PosterTiles were discontinued and the BayouWear® line was focused on the HowAhYa shirt, camisoles and the long skirt.
The poster was published by ProCreations from 1975 through 1990, when the Festival Foundation experimented with other approaches. In 1994, Brimberg was asked back and created IconoGraphx, superceded in 1998 by Art4Now®, the current publisher. With ProCreations consulting, these companies have maintained the vision of commissioning acclaimed artists and producing museum-quality posters, ceramics and clothing. By elevating the poster to a serious art form, they made New Orleans a globally recognized center of poster art and created unique collectibles, reflecting and extending the Jazz Fest experience beyond sound, time and geography.
™& ©1998-2014 ProCreations Publishing Company
2014 Jazz Fest Poster
2014 Congo Square Poster
BayouWear®
PosterCard Sets
Vintage Jazz Fest
Vintage Congo Square
ProCreations Classic Posters

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