Essence Fest and its Economic Impact on New Orleans

Jasmine Browley
New Orleans Agenda

It’s nearly impossible to think about ESSENCE and its marquee Annual ESSENCE Festival of Culture (EFOC) without images of New Orleans flashing in your mind. The three have been intrinsically linked for more than two decades, when in 1994, the first festival was hosted there to celebrate ESSENCE Magazine’s 25th Anniversary. The location made sense, as both have honored the sacred culture of Blackness for generations.

Now, as we near the 29th year of ESSENCE Fest which will take place June 29-July 3, the event has evolved but one aspect has remained the same, New Orleans is still its forever home.

EFOC has kicked off a long-standing and deeply rooted kinship with the City of New Orleans that has only grown stronger over time. Last month, ESSENCE Ventures’ President & CEO Caroline Wanga delivered the keynote for Dillard University’s 2023 Graduating Class and was honored with a degree for her substantial work in private and public sectors.

On May 13th, Wanga addressed the crowd of thousands and implored them to not only go after their dreams, but to revel in what they’d already accomplished.

“It’s not so much about what the power of your presence after today will do for the world,” Wanga said to the onlookers. “What’s more important is how powerful your absence will be.”

The honor was just one example of ESSENCE’s relationship with NOLA. EFOC, for example has played a pivotal economic role in the city, as evidenced by a November 2022 report conducted by Dillard University, an HBCU located in New Orleans. The report, prepared by Dorian Williams, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Business and Casey Schreiber, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Urban Studies & Public Policy at Dillard University, found that in last year alone, EFOC made a $327M impact, generated $120M in labor income, contributed about $49M in city, state & local taxes and added $189M in value added to GDP.

“It’s always been in New Orleans,” Wanga said in a 2022 interview with Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club.

“And I have to reinforce that because it’s not the ESSENCE Festival if it’s not in New Orleans,” explaining that the fest was temporarily relocated to Houston for one year, and virtual for another two years during the Pandemic.

As she also points out, it is the largest festival in the country by per day attendance.

“We’re talking about half a million people for 27 years have live gathered in New Orleans—you can’t find another one that does that, that’s then just about us.”

EFOC returns this year, on an even bigger scale as it celebrates the 50th year of hip-hop, with a full lineup of musical pioneers to lead the performance showcase over the course of the 3-day event. There will also be 1 million square feet of Hip-Hop Nostalgia at the Convention Center this year.

“{New Orleans} and ESSENCE were born together,” Wanga said. “The cultural currency the city has is what makes the festival dope—it will always be held there.”

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