Essence CEO Wanga Says Festival ‘Never Leaves’ New Orleans

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Vanessa Dawson, left rear, producer of Maui Moisture, stands in her hair care truck near the Essence festival in downtown New Orleans on Thursday, June 30, 2022. The Essence general manager said she was had asked a multitude of times if the Essence Festival of Culture is staying in New Orleans.  On Thursday, Caroline Wanga put an end to all speculation, making the answer to this question very clear.  (Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP)

Vanessa Dawson, left rear, producer of Maui Moisture, stands in her hair care truck near the Essence festival in downtown New Orleans on Thursday, June 30, 2022. The Essence general manager said she was had asked a multitude of times if the Essence Festival of Culture is staying in New Orleans. On Thursday, Caroline Wanga put an end to all speculation, making the answer to this question very clear. (Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP)

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The Essence general manager said she was asked several times if the Essence Festival of Culture was staying in New Orleans. On Thursday, Caroline Wanga put an end to all speculation, making the answer to this question very clear.

“The Essence Festival of Culture never leaves the city of New Orleans,” Wanga said repeatedly at a press conference held to welcome the in-person event to the city after an enforced two-year hiatus. due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are integrated and born together,” Wanga said of the brand’s relationship with the city. “We need each other.”

The city’s current contract with the festival runs through 2024. Discussions are currently underway regarding a contract extension, said John F. Lawson, deputy press secretary for Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration.

Essence Fest began in 1995 as a one-time tribute to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Essence magazine. Known as “a party with a purpose,” its original mission was to give back to the community through free seminars designed to enrich the lives of women. Since then, Essence Fest has grown into the world’s largest celebration of black women, culture and community, attracting more than 500,000 visitors in recent years, officials said.

Before the pandemic hiatus sparked the festival’s virtual birth, it had been held in New Orleans every year except 2006 when it moved to Houston while the Superdome was under repair after Hurricane Katrina. Her virtual experience has attracted more than 100 million views, organizers said.

This year they also noted that it would be the first time they would offer a live component and the ability to connect virtually. Hulu will be the festival’s official streaming platform, featuring curated programming including panel discussions and nightly musical performances. The live stream will run Friday through Sunday from 7 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. CDT.

Cantrell thanked Essence and its business partners for returning to the city “to invest in our communities and neighborhoods.”

“The needs are great and the time has come,” she said.

Since its inception, the festival has been a huge summer economic engine for the city. Over the past few years, it’s impacted the city’s revenue by $200 million and is expected to reap at least this year, tourism officials said.

Kelly Schulz, spokeswoman for New Orleans and Company, which tracks hotel occupancy in the French Quarter and Central Business District, said hotels are expected to be about 90% full Friday and Saturday and about 80% full Sunday, the closing night of the festival. The occupancy figures mirror or approximate those reported in 2019, the last time the festival held an in-person event.

“The return of the festival is extremely important,” Schulz said. “There has been a lot of pent-up demand for this in New Orleans, but not just at our hotels. It comes from our restaurants, our music clubs, the stores, the artists, the tour groups.” She added, “We are thrilled to have Essence back on our schedule and thrilled to have them here.”

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