New Orleans's post-Katrina artistic revival is in full swing
Galleries are flourishing despite the market and indie movies are on a roll – jumpstarting the whole arts scenes, but to a slightly different rhythm.
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As part of its mission to grow the grass-roots, indie film scene, Court 13 offered after-school classes to local children ages 7 to 11, Mr. Penn says, “helping them to find a story, develop it, and act in it so they could be the creative force.” The collective's hope, Penn adds, is “to foster a different kind of filmmaking community than in Los Angeles, with a DIY, adventurous spirit where anything is possible and you’re not limited by your small budget.”Skip to next paragraph
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All those who’ve been through the storm and those who came to rebuild afterward are shaped by the experience. “It’s impossible to say our work’s not influenced by Katrina,” says Ms. Gisleson. The art, the very existence of the St. Claude art district in the funky Bywater neighborhood where most artists live – this holistic emphasis “is never about us,” she maintains. “It’s about what we have and what could have been lost.”
The spotlight on the city after the storm highlighted its distinctive identity as a mélange of indigenous and imported cultures, music, cuisine, and festivities. For a few years after Katrina, artists of every stripe had to exorcise ghosts of tragedy in their work, but eyes have turned to the future. “Katrina still hangs over everything,” according to “Beasts of the Southern Wild” director Benh Zeitlin. “But it’s more a force that drives people forward now, as opposed to something that holds you back.”
Meissner, a teacher of martial arts by day and actor/director at his core, talks about rebuilding his life along with the city. “Especially if you were here before the storm, you see that cultural [progression] of change and growth. It’s been a transformational process, which makes our work so much deeper, while the interaction between old and new makes it more interesting.”
Now that mourning for what was lost has subsided, New Orleanians are back to what they do best: throwing their creative energies into celebrating. Mr. Zeitlin pooh-poohed the idea that the constant panoply of parades and parties might distract from producing art. “Our films are about that. We thrive on that. That’s why I fell in love with the place.” The city’s charms, he says, balance his “cut-throat work ethic.”
Zeitlin praises the freedom and tolerance of eccentricity in his adopted city, saying, “People just accept who you are and appreciate it.” He hopes to attract more kindred spirits and to inspire youth, making the city a creative mecca: “If the kids here were picking up video cameras the way they pick up horns,” he says, “that could be a real way for the city to express itself.”
As young artists converge, drawn by the inexpensive cost of living, joie de vivre, and a chance to do something significant, New Orleans is the Tabasco-tinged flavor of the moment. Besides a commitment to communal endeavor and artistic expression, no philosophy binds the alt-art flock. It may not last when groups – as often happens – splinter. Perhaps circumstance will slow the director’s call to “action!” followed by “cut” and fade to black.
Yet even if the current, hip arts scene proves ephemeral, the stately magnolias will still lift their velvety, cupped petals to the sky; tinkling notes from a piano will still drift down Frenchmen Street; and lacy, wrought-iron balconies will harbor costumed crowds straining to catch beads from a Mardi Gras float. New Orleans – that fragile, precious place – like the Dude in "The Big Lebowski," abides.