the soil for creative activity has, of course, always been fertile in New Orleans. The visual arts scene may never have been as rich as it is today in the wake of the storm, but in other ways the city has always claimed its place on this country's cultural stage, with a traditon for fiesta and carnival driven in the first instance by Catholic holidays, like lent, Easter and Christmas. It is, above all, of course, a city of jazz and of cuisine. And Mardi Gras.
"I didn't expect to stay, but New Orleans turned out to be like a crazy girlfriend and it's hard to leave," Hansen says. "It is a city that has a character that is tangible. On a more pragmatic level, there are just so many options for me here much more than there would be if I stayed out west. There is work and a constant stream of film people coming in right now."
As closely identified as anyone with what is happening here is Kirsha Kaechele, who also arrived before the hurricane with the idea that she would open what she calls a "white-box" museum for contemporary art. It was to be, she explains, a sort of Tate Modern on the Mississippi. But then came Katrina, inundating her loft-style home in an old bakery in the Eighth Ward as well as several other very humble houses, mostly in the shotgun style that is common in the city. She invited artists to her block and together they used six of the abandoned homes and the bakery to stage a series of art installations and to display new works. From there she moved on to setting the Eiffel Society project in train.
"The hurricane was so good for us because it made us readjust all our ideas about how things should be in the art world and led us to create something really refreshing. It forced us to become more interesting and to become stronger," she reflects. She adds that had it not been not been for the storm we, "would have opened a traditional space in the central district and these projects, which are so much more stimulating, would never have happened".
Delighted but not surprised by the cultural re-blossoming are Tennan and his wife in their rambling Esplanade mansion. "One step up from a storage facility," is Bob's wry description of the house which doubles as a chaotic gallery dedicated to his art and the art of friends. They recall coming to New Orleans from New York in the mid-70s and finding that it had only two contemporary art galleries. Before long they had founded the Contemporary Arts Centre of New Orleans to help fill the void. In the wake of Katrina, Jeanne took over an abandoned school and turned it into an ad hoc crucible for new works with at one point as many as 160 artists contributing. The city has taken the school back now, however.
"If you look at a history of all major disasters they always give rise to new waves of creativity and we have certainly seen it here," notes Tennan, sharing a pecan-nut beer from Mississippi called Lazy Magnolia. "The status quo was challenged." Nathan credits the restaurants for sparking the revival. They re-awoke first after the storm, in part because the French Quarter was spared the flooding. In turn they re-hired musicians, giving them a reason to return home. After that the process gathered speed. Tide stains on elevated motorway columns were gradually replaced by art and "found art" – mostly sculptures assembled from items taken from abandoned homes – began rising on the central reservations of avenues.
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