New Orleans Cultural Policy Timeline

Note: This is timeline is not intended to be complete, but rather highlight important milestones to give context to New Orleans’ current laws.  This timeline is a work in progress and will be periodically updated with additional research.


1897: Storyville is established.

On January 27th, Alderman Sydney Story succeeds in passing an ordinance confining prostitution to an eighteen block area just North of the French Quarter, creating what would soon be dubbed “Storyville” (and eventually led to an unofficial “Black Storyville” on the other side of Canal St, in an unsuccessful effort to segregate black prostitutes and limit the spread of the now emerging Jazz). Entrepreneurs quickly set up brothels and caberets, helping to create a thriving music scene.


1907: Gay Shattuck Act is Passed.

In 1907 the Louisiana Legislature passed the Gay Shattuck act, which raised fees for selling alcohol, prohibited blacks and whites from drinking in the same business, prohibited live music in bars (and in fact, even keeping an instrument in any “barroom, cabaret, coffee house, cafe, beer saloon, liquor exchange, drinking saloon, grog shop, beer house, or beer garden”) and barred women from working where alcohol was sold.  However, this law was loosely enforced in Storyville and many establishments simply starting selling food (or pretended too) to keep hosting live music.

1917: Storyville is Closed.

The national passage of the Selective Service Act outlawed prostitution within 10 miles of a military base, putting pressure on the district. After the mayor fails to act, the City Council unanimously passes an ordinance shuttering the district.

1917: ‘Music Ordinance’ Passed

In an effort to further limit live music and hasten the closing of cabarets, Ordinance No. 4221 requires a permit from the mayor to play an instrument in any public place, restaurant, or theater.

1918: ‘Useless Noise’ Ordinance Passed

This was in response to the growing proliferation of automobiles and street vendors, limiting the use of horns and banning a number of devices vendors used to get attention (like gongs and whistles). Music is not mentioned in this ordinance.

1930: Anti-Noise Ordinance Passed

This ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Fred Earhart, makes it illegal to play a musical instrument after midnight except at ‘permitted halls and places of entertainment’, limits the use of loudspeakers for advertising, and places limits on ‘sound devices’ (including instruments) within 500ft of a cemetery or church.

1945: Alcohol Regulations Passed

Ordinance 16,221, local legislation regulating alcohol is passed, much of which is still on the books today in some form--including a provision that prohibits any ‘bar, barroom, night club, dance hall, beer house, music hall or theatre, court yard, cabaret, restaurant, wine house, club, store, resort or other similar place’ to open within 300 feet of a school, church, public playground or library unless 70% of property owners within the 300 ft radius signed an affidavit in support of the business. In 1953, a revision lifted the regulations on restaurants and private clubs, but also banned outside seating for businesses that sell alcohol, among many other provisions.  Ordinance No. 5010, passed in 1971, allows for non-profits, schools, and churches to sell alcohol at special events and festivals in public parks within the 300 ft. limit with a concession agreement granted by the city.  The 300 foot ban on bars, night clubs, and retail sale remains today.

1958: Limitations on Bars, Night Clubs, and Cabarets in Residential Areas

Ordinance 1406, introduced by Councilmember Curtis, restricts any new ‘barroom, saloon cabaret, night club, or other places where beverages of high alcoholic content are sold at retail, to be consumed on premises, in any residential district.’

1970: New Zoning Ordinance Adopted

Though not immediately apparent, this is a watershed moment in planning and cultural regulation in New Orleans.  The 1970 re-write of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance formalizes a ‘suburban’ style of planning, separating business and commercial uses. This formalizes the push of many cultural uses, particularly live music, out of residential neighborhoods and into commercial corridors and the Central Business District. Though little noticed at the time, the ordinance explicitly bars live entertainment in ‘cocktail lounges’, a ban which was reinforced several years later and still largely stands today.  Though the ordinance was updated many times over the years, it was not fully re-written again for 45 years, until 2015.

1977:  Ordinance Banning Live Entertainment in Bars in Neighborhood Business Districts

In response to pressure from the Maple Area Residents Association, Councilmember Frank Friedler originally proposed a one year ban on new bars on Maple Street, as the neighborhood association was upset about the proliferation of college bars and college students. The ban was popular among other neighborhood and preservation groups, and at their urging, Friedler introduced an ordinance that would create further restrictions on cocktail lounges in neighborhood business districts, including banning live entertainment. Despite the protests of Mr. Winstin, then head of the Musicians’ Union, who suggested the targeting of live entertainment may be unconstitutional, the ordinance was passed.

1981: ‘Modernization’ of Noise Ordinance

Riding a federal trend (and financial support), Mayor Morial created the Noise Control Task Force, which worked for 8 months to draft a comprehensive noise ordinance for New Orleans.  The resulting ordinance created decibel limits for the entirety of the city, limits on certain types of sound at certain hours (including a ban on playing a musical instrument in public after 8PM) and criminal penalties for violations of the ordinance, including up to 90 days in jail.  The Task Force charged with creating the ordinance consisted of hearing specialists, lawyers, university faculty, and civic and neighborhood association leaders.  No musicians, music venue owners, culture bearers, or audiologists were a part of the committee.  This is the ordinance that is still in place today.

1992: Live Entertainment is Defined (and Limited)

In response to issues surrounding the fair allocation of the amusement tax; disagreements around live music in Treme, Little People’s Place in particular; and opposition to drag shows at the Corner Pocket and Mississippi River Bottom Bar in the French Quarter, the city drafted a definition of ‘Live Entertainment’ in the Zoning Ordinance so they could more effectively regulate it.  The definition regulated far more than just music, including virtually all types of performance, such as poetry readings, DJs, dance, magic shows, and mimes. Once the definition was created, everything contained in it was then regulated, and only allowed in the specifically areas which were zoned for live entertainment.  Hence, the creation of this definition essentially made all forms of live entertainment illegal in most of the city.

1995-1997: Attempts to Restrict to Street Performance in French Quarter.

Spearheaded by the Councilmember Jackie Clarkson and supported by several French Quarter resident associations, these restrictions including a crackdown on street performers using the 8PM curfew imposed in the 1982 noise ordinance—which resulted in the curfew being declared unconstitutional, and therefore, unenforceable.  There was also an attempt to enforce a rule that allowed a police officer to cite a street musician who was ‘plainly audible’ at 50 ft., but that too was found to be unconstitutional. Ultimately, the end result was a slight change in the allowable decibel level for performers near Saint Lewis Cathedral, however controversy and conflict plagues street performance the French Quarter up to today.

2010: Master Plan Adopted

After a number of post-Katrina planning processes, the City of New Orleans finally passes its first full master plan, formally titled Plan for the 21st Century – New Orleans 2030. However, despite a number of previous planning processes that engaged many members of the cultural community, culture in all forms is largely absent from the approved plan, and is only discussed for a few pages as it relates to economic development. 

2015: Zoning Ordinance Updated

For the first time in 45 years, there is a full rewrite of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance.  The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans engaged in the rewrite process over 18 months and was successfully able to advocate for changes that loosened some cultural restrictions, including the removal of limits on the number of musicians allowed and all references to the source of sound.  The definition of live entertainment was rewritten to make it less restrictive, and language explicitly allowing performance for private enjoyment in a person’s own home was added.  In addition, a provision allowing standard restaurants to have ‘live musical accompaniment’ was added. 

2016: Master Plan Updates

To begin to address the lack of support for music and culture in the previously adopted Master Plan, MaCCNO worked with a group of cultural community members to create a package of amendments to create protections for cultural activity.  These included creating a pathway for historic music venues to re-open, recommending a sound proofing grant program for neighborhood bars and music venues, creating a full survey and preservation plan for all musically, culturally, and spiritually important sites, and several other updates.  These amendments were approved and are now a part of the full Master Plan.