A coliseum for news media, a mausoleum of memories for locals
A particular smell or a familiar sound can take you for a stroll down memory lane, reminding you of how drastically life can change in such little time. The role of memory is to decide what information to hold onto and to determine how to translate those details into memories.
My first memory of The Crescent City comes from documenting Prospect 1, the first biennial to the city as a catalyst to rebuild from the art world and up. This perplexing duality of pre and post Katrina is the overwhelming resilience of New Orleans – its people, and culture, which is something each visitor can only strive to understand.
Ten years after Katrina, the skeleton of old, timeless and traditional New Orleans remains intact, with parts of the city still in ruins juxtaposed against the rapidly changing culture and art scene, peppered with major doses of gentrification. For some locals, the anniversary is like wincing while slowly taking off a Band-Aid on a wound that fully hasn’t healed. For others, it’s a jazz funeral, looking back in order to look forward. Both reactions are just because personal experience, through memory, is what allows us to learn how to accept change.
How Art Has Helped Heal
New Orleans’ major art museums, The Center for Contemporary Arts, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art, are currently exhibiting the permutation of memory, loss, and transformation of Katrina, though all three shows have entirely different takes.
The most conceptual of the three, NOMA’s Ten Years Gone deals with trauma and the importance of anniversaries as a more universal language. From Dawn DeDeux’s haunting acrylic slabs superimposed with different heights of watermarks from around the city, “Ten Years Gone invites our visitors to consider the present moment as both an ending and a beginning, a chance to reflect on the past but also engage with the future.” Said Susan M. Taylor, the director of NOMA, in an article by The Louisiana Weekly.
The Ogden presents a more personal approach in their exhibit, Hurricane Digital Memory Bank Project, inviting members of the community to archive and document their individual experiences with hurricane Katrina.
Through the work of 38 artists, Reverb at the CAC chronologically covers the ripple effect the tragedy had on the practices of the New Orleans’ artistic community.
Besides the presence of memory and reflection, the resounding statement from three exhibits is that art is the most powerful healing factor for the growth of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. There are entire art communities that have been created and prospered in Katrina’s wake. Overall, the art world is growing larger than ever. Last year, there were 9.5 million visitors according to an article in The New York Times. Many speculators believe the major reason for the increasing number in artists migrating to New Orleans is the initial biennial, Prospect 1, which brought in hundreds of artists and caught the attention of millions world wide.
Several art companies and nonprofits that have grown out of Katrina’s turmoil have come to prominence with a mission of preservation and working toward the future of New Orleans.
Through the sales of the Blue Dog relief prints, the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts raised $2.5 million post-Katrina benefiting New Orleans Red Cross, the Museum of Art, and other smaller nonprofits. The foundation continues to focus efforts on the educational development of children in New Orleans through the art programs.
Porter Lyons, the New Orleans based jewelry and lifestyle brand that Ashley created post Katrina, is inspired not only by an insistent need to document culture, but also by an importance to share and preserve it. With many collections inspired by New Orleans, 5% of all sales go to the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. As featured on Marthastewart.com, Porter explained, “I build each piece with a story that educates the customer about a specific aspect of New Orleans culture.”
“The arts are so important, despite all of the devastation the city has felt,” Porter explains, “New Orleans is on the map because of its art, and the culture that surrounds it- the sense of community and the accessibility – art is an every day experience. Katrina, as traumatic as it was for me, and all of us, served as a vehicle for New Orleans to show the rest of the world that our culture is so rooted and so rich that we are not going anywhere. Katrina is a part of us; it’s what made New Orleans into what it is today.”
With the 10th anniversary marked this past weekend, New Orleanians found different ways to connect to their city, from second lines to vigils.
Art was and continues to be the healing guidance in New Orleans. Culture is the divine spark and driving force; and the people are the storytellers of memories and rituals and history that can never be drowned out.
Love & Lyons,