Let’s Do This

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Ashley Shabankareh, Director of Programs for Preservation Hall Foundation

Ashley Shabankareh, Director of Programs for Preservation Hall Foundation

MEET ASHLEY SHABANKAREH

Let’s Do This is excited for you to learn more about Ashley Shabankareh, the Director of Programs for the Preservation Hall Foundation. This force of nature is fully integrated into the New Orleans community, from music to dance and beyond, Ashley does it all.

Originally from San Diego, Ashley found her way to New Orleans in 2006. When she’s not working at Preservation Hall, you can find her performing in her musical projects Marina Orchestra, The Asylum Chorus. She also is in the Camel Toe Lady Steppers dance troupe and serves as their fundraising chair, raising money each year for Roots of Music, an education program in Treme, in addition to serving on the board of Loyola New Orleans and the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans.

GET TO KNOW PRESERVATION HALL

Preservation Hall Jazz Band is an institution in New Orleans. At a moment when musical streams were crossing with unprecedented frequency, it’s crucial to remember that throughout its history, New Orleans has been the point at which sounds and cultures from around the world converge, mingle, and resurface.

Founded in 1961, Preservation Hall is home to the living traditions of New Orleans Music. Situated in the heart of the French Quarter at 726 St. Peter Street, the Hall presents intimate, acoustic New Orleans jazz concerts nightly featuring some of New Orleans’ finest performers, showcasing a musical legacy dating back to the origins of jazz itself.

In New Orleans, “Tradition” is not just a body of knowledge. It is the personal bond between generations of practitioners that allows culture to be transmitted and made meaningful to the present through education, community outreach, archiving, and caring for our aging culture bearers.

The Preservation Hall Foundation strives to supports music education, academic research, historical archiving and promotional outreach campaigns to create greater awareness and appreciation for Traditional New Orleans Jazz and the communities that support it in New Orleans and beyond. The Foundation’s mission is “to protect, preserve, and perpetuate the musical traditions and heritage of New Orleans.”

LET’S DO THIS

LDT: What path led you to New Orleans?

AS: Going to get my teaching degree, specifically my music education degree.

LDT: How did you get where you are now? 

AS: It’s kind of like… I feel like I need to share the whole story. I was interning with the New Orleans Bingo! Show, like the projects from Clint Maedgen.

So I was interning for them and I was asked after Voodoo Fest to pick up a shift for Ron at Preservation Hall. It was my very first shift. I had no training at all. I went in blind. Then I did that a couple times and there was a post-it note on the cash register that said, “Do you want a job?” Laughs…

And that’s how I started working at Preservation Hall. Nothing like a formal job offer! It was a just a post-it note that said, “Do you want a job? :)” It was from our general manager at the time. So that’s how I got hired.

LDT: What is a typical day in your life?

AS: I don’t think we ever have one typical day. Laughs.

A lot of it depends on what programs are happening at the Hall. We do education, outreach, archiving, and legacy programs. Getting set up for schools, working with student groups… The days completely vary depending on what kids are coming into the Hall. And what programs are coming into the Hall.

No one day is the same.

LDT: What is your rose? Thorn? I.e. what frustrates or challenges you in your work? And what is the most valuable, exciting part?

AS: The rose would be actually working with kids hands-on and doing all the education stuff. That is by far my favorite thing to do.

The thorn would be the amount of data management and upkeep that goes into those education programs. The actual hands-on… we’re doing it, this is fun – that’s my favorite.

LDT: What do you feel most proud about in your current role?

AS: I think one of the things I’m most proud about is really impacting the lives of all of our culture bearers.

Preservation Hall, as an organization, is like one giant family. It’s so wonderful to provide them with new opportunities, empowering them to share their stories and their culture with the community.

LDT: What is your target audience? Who do you work with?

AS: We work with all ages. Preservation Hall is all about inclusiveness.

LDT: What is your outlet from work? What is your passion, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

AS: Outside of work, I’m involved in a lot of different organizations. Of course, that’s what we all do in the creative field.

I’m a musician in a couple bands. I play trombone in one and sing in the other. And I’m in a female dance troupe called the Camel Toe Lady Steppers. So I do all the fundraising and events for that group. Specifically doing fundraising for the Roots of Music, which is a big music education program in Treme. I also am a board member of Loyola New Orleans and the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans.

LDT: How do you maintain work-life balance?

AS: I’m going to be completely honest, I don’t. Laughs.

I’ve gotten better about maintaining that balance. I’ve done things to not look at things in my phone. I’ve deleted all the social media things that I would look at specifically for work. So I’m not doing that as much.

I’m trying to cut myself off at a certain time so I can’t check emails anymore. So you’re like, “What’s on fire? I don’t know.” Then you’re in a downward spiral like, “Why did I check my phone?”

But I find that real zen area, so I can try to completely separate myself from work, is making costumes. It’s been amazing for that. Hot glue gun… sewing machine… not doing anything. Just looking at these items. It’s the ultimate zen.

And gardening! Way too many plants have ended up in my house.

LDT: What do you want to do next? What is your next goal or initiative?

AS: I have no idea right now. I’m in like total Mardi Gras break. Everything right now is like Mardi Gras is happening. Everything is wonderful.

Project-wise, I’m looking to record more music. That’s every musician’s goal to keep recording music and writing music.

LDT: What kind of connections are you looking to make or need?

AS: I’m always looking to connect with other music educators and explore the different cultural opportunities for them. I’m always looking to connect with other musicians.

LDT: How do you think your industry is going to change in the next 5 years? 10 years?

AS: You know, I feel like we’re in a unique position in the world of education, especially in New Orleans.

Over the past decade, New Orleans has experienced great change in its public education system. Currently, 93% of students attend charter schools – the highest percentage in the country. In addition, 83% of students in New Orleans public schools are from low-income households and receive free or reduced lunches. With this very unique public education system, New Orleans schools are often challenged by a lack of resources, especially as it pertains to their ability to provide consistent music and cultural education.

My hope is that we a) move towards cohesiveness with our school systems here (it’s currently overseen by the Orleans Parish School Board AND the Recovery School District) and b) we engage with cultural instruction with our students.

On that note, I’m currently in the midst of creating a National New Orleans Music Curriculum with Preservation Hall; I hope that it really unlocks a whole world of potential for students, not just locally, but nationally.

LDT: Where would you like to be able to put more time and focus your energies?

AS: I just need more downtime for myself. I’ll be completely transparent about that. I’m the worst about it. I didn’t take my first real vacation until last year (I’ve been working at the Hall for 10 years now).

LDT: Who or what kinds of people would you like to read an interview from? 

AS: I‘d be more inclined to read an interview from the graphic design world because that’s a whole different world than what I do. That whole process to me is confusing, and by confusing I mean, I’m just not good at it. Like taking the image in my brain and translating it to something beautiful.

Music is one thing, but when it comes to visual art I’m like, what do I do? What is this?

LDT: What do you do outside of work for personal development?

AS: In terms of reading, I’m a big fan of reading autobiographies because I think it gives you really a great insight into people, physical processes, and their lifestyles. I think that’s an interesting thing to do.

I always like to hang out with musicians. A big thing we preach at the Hall is passing this tradition from one generation to the next. You can learn so much from sitting with someone and taking in all of the information they’re giving you. Even the simplest of stories has something to take away from it.

GUEST QUESTION

Each interview on Let’s Do This features a guest question from a previous collaborator. This question comes from Kasimu Harris, a New Orleans-based writer, storyteller, and photographer who uses his creativity as a medium to push the narrative.

Kasimu Harris: What’s the story behind the moment that you committed yourself to your work?

AS: You know, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about that. Laughs.

Actually, no! I do know the moment.

So the first moment as a musician where I was like, “Oh, this is a thing, and I’m so excited to commit myself,” was when I got the phone call from Alan Toussaint to be part of his band. That was the moment I was like, I have to really dedicate myself and focus myself to my craft.

And then for the Hall… I’ve just always been drawn to the Hall as a place, as an institution. So that one I feel is a little more nebulous because I’ve gotten to know all the musicians. The more I got to know the musicians, the more I threw myself into Preservation Hall. It’s like a big ol’ family.

LDT: What’s your question for the next interview?

AS: What do you do to find inspiration in your everyday life?

LET’S DO THIS! STOP, COLLABORATE & LISTEN

If you’re interested in a future collaboration or learning more about Ashley Shabankareh and Preservation Hall, you can connect and follow their journey using the links below.

Ashley Shabankareh

Preservation Hall

Marina Orchestra

The Asylum Chorus

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