One town uses the arts to revive after hurricane Katrina
Bay St. Louis, Miss., taps painters and the cultural community nationwide to become a rare post-Katrina success story. Why are residents yelling 'Stellaaaaaaa?'
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"I don't know of another place more diverse in the arts," says Gwen Impson, former president of The Arts, Hancock County, a group supporting more than 200 artists ranging from belly dancers to poets. "Art is more than decoration; it's the soul of the community."Skip to next paragraph
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That soul became crucial after Katrina. In a maelstrom of chaos, it provided comfort, direction, and cheer. There was no power, no phones. Artists were scattered across the country, their supplies gone, their galleries in ruins. Groups gathered on street corners, staging art shows by candlelight. But few buyers were thinking of anything beyond the day at hand. The nation's eyes were focused on New Orleans.
As the smaller towns pondered whether to rebuild at all, the Bay St. Louis arts community hit the phones and computers, searching for artists and supplies. They asked galleries from New York to Los Angeles to exhibit their work. And everywhere they went, they put out the word: We're still here. Come to Bay St. Louis. Come home.
Anita Gallagher, a watercolorist and printmaker, lost her home and studio in Katrina. She fled to nearby Ocean Springs. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and donations from artists nationwide helped her survive. Eventually, she and other local artists landed a showing at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark. "Some of these artists were having to work morning, noon, and night so they'd have money to rebuild," says Ms. Gallagher. "Little Rock was a big jumping point for them because they got national recognition."
Other artists changed their styles. Lori Gordon was primarily a landscape painter before the storm. Afterward, faced with no supplies, only the battery-powered screwdriver her husband had escaped with, she started producing mixed-media artwork. She used refuse from the beach in her pieces. Suddenly, her work was showing in Seattle, New York, and San Francisco – and hanging on the walls of singer Faith Hill and former president Jimmy Carter.
"Katrina opened doors all over the country that wouldn't have been open to me otherwise," she says. "As difficult as Katrina was, and still is, it brought some really wonderful things not only to my life, but to others."