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New Orleans's post-Katrina artistic revival is in full swing

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In contrast to fancy, blue-chip galleries in upscale areas, the upstarts are bare-bones endeavors, founded by emerging artists in their mid-20s to mid-40s, just as the independent movies are being created by 20-something self-starters. Joseph Meissner, who made an award-winning, low-budget feature film, "Flood Streets," with his wife, sold their house to finance production. “Collectives are the way to go,” he now says. “The old indie credo was do-it-yourself (DIY), but this new idea has emerged of DIWO – do it with others.”

The let’s-get-together-and-put-on-a-show, group-hug vibe is attracting idealistic, artsy young people to the city in droves. Like Seattle in the 1990s, New Orleans is now the hot city. The new energy, stoked by outsiders and mixed with Katrina survivors’ resilience, is rejuvenating the arts scene, jump-starting it into a different rhythm. Kyle Bravo, a founding member of The Front collective, explains: “It was partly the energy of rebuilding post-Katrina and to re-create the city in some way” that inspired him to start a co-op gallery after rehabbing his house and studio.

When asked how art can contribute to a city’s recovery, Mr. Bravo admitted, “I tend to be skeptical about art’s ability to effect much social change.” He also distrusts reliance on government, saying, “That whole Katrina experience solidified my belief you can’t depend on institutions or authorities at all. If you see a need, it’s us filling it, doing what needs to get done.” Bravo's wife, Jenny LeBlanc, he says, called transforming a flooded-out building into a venue to display art "the largest sculpture I ever made."

The collectives’ members consider the communities they’ve formed as vital to urban well-being as the art shown in their galleries. Like artist Joseph Beuys’s concept of social sculpture, the collectives not only reclaim abandoned buildings, injecting new life into a physical setting, but disperse a dynamic, can-do ethos into a pretty laid-back place.

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