Big Easy's new biennial energizes arts community
Influx of foreign art work around the city is complemented by 'unofficial' local installations.
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Created by Kearney and fellow artists Joshua Walsh and Jules Cote, their work is a "guerrilla art drop" coinciding with the official exhibits of Prospect.1. Undeterred when they failed to win inclusion in the biennial – only 11 Louisiana artists did – Kearney and his collaborators worked for months before making their unsanctioned installation two days before the biennial's opening. Their volunteer crew included a dozen local poets, artists, and musicians. "New Orleans is one of the few places left where something like this can happen, where it's all about the art and living the life of art," says Kearney. "The 'condo mondo' world hasn't taken over here yet, and the city itself is a beautiful canvas to work with."Skip to next paragraph
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St. Claude Avenue, which was down on its heels before Katrina but did not suffer severe flooding, has been ground zero for a flowering indigenous-arts scene. Eight new galleries have opened in the past three years. At Colton Junior High School, where several Prospect.1 artists have installations, more than 50 local artists associated with the Creative Alliance of New Orleans have set up studio spaces and informal galleries. The city's public school system offered temporary use of the building to CANO, in return for volunteer renovation work and free art classes for public school students.
A block away, an equally innovative collaboration is taking shape in an old furniture store, where the St. Claude Collective – a group of artists, architects, builders, and alternative healers – is turning the once-vacant building into a community center and exhibition space. In an arrangement that might be considered odd in most cities, the New Orleans police department became the collective's first tenant, opening a district substation on the first floor.
Across the street on St. Roch Avenue, artist Ann Linn has a hand in two art galleries housed on her corner property. A Mississippi native and fabric artist who lived in New York for 20 years before moving to New Orleans after Katrina, Linn runs the Home Space Gallery and rents an attached Creole cottage to artists.
A few blocks away at the other end of St. Roch, art entrepreneur Kirsha Kaechele runs KKProjects, which encompasses an art gallery built in a former bakery and four dilapidated shotgun houses that she offers to artists for installations. While not an official Prospect.1 site, Kaechele's recent outdoor dinner party, which seated 250 art patrons at a block-long dinner table, nearly stole the spotlight of the new biennial's opening night.
New Orleans' fertile creative soil and comparatively low cost of living have always attracted artists, and the opportunity of redeveloping a devastated city is also drawing some high-profile art and design professionals.
"When young artists ask me where they should go to work, I mentioned two places – Berlin and New Orleans," says artist Willie Birch, a native who spent two decades in New York before returning, and whose work is part of Prospect.1. "The visuals here are crying to be made into something that's very unique.... Things are just beginning to buzz here in terms of possibility."