Five new murals are up or going up in New Orleans, within walking distance of each other. Organizers say it’s the first phase of a project to bring the vibrancy of the city’s art scene outside gallery walls.
The murals include a huge painting of an African American man holding up a child above the stylized word “SURVIVE.” Another is planned as a detailed, life-sized architectural drawing of a mid-19th century shotgun house. Two murals are abstract. The fifth shows a four-story-high man holding a mug that, if real, would be big enough for someone to bathe in.
The Arts Council of New Orleans got a $175,000 grant from the Helis Foundation for what executive director Heidi Schmalbach described as phase one of its Unframed project. You can’t really veil a painting several stories high over a parking lot, but the murals’ formal “unveiling” is Saturday evening, when galleries in the city’s Arts District stay open late for First Saturday Gallery Openings .
“We want to create interest and encourage walkability,” Schmalbach said.
She said about 100 artists and groups competed for the contracts. The council wants to create as many murals as it can get money and walls for, starting with a downtown phase 2.
“We would like to move to other parts of this city as well. … We want New Orleans to be a destination for contemporary visual art as much as we’re known for our music, food, and unique culture,” she said.
There are a number of murals around New Orleans, but relatively few in the Arts District and downtown, Schmalbach said.
The smallest but possibly the most intricate mural was just getting under way Friday morning, as Tulane University architecture professor Carrie Norman and some students used Japanese paint pens to fill in stenciled lines.
She said the length and height of their wall outside a condominium parking lot almost precisely matches those of a typical New Orleans shotgun house — a style that got its name because each room opens off the next so one could, theoretically, fire a shotgun from the front door through the back door.
Norman said she and fellow professor and design studio partner Adam Modesitt hoped to have “Open House” framed in, as it were, by Saturday evening. Furniture will be added during June.
Plans include a shower, kitchen, living room with coal-burning fireplace and porch swing, all outlined and detailed in black on the white background.
“It will become like a stage set. The public can come by and act out” whatever they want, Norman said. Looked at another way, people will take the place of the stylized human figures used to show the scale of an architectural drawing.
“The public completes the drawing,” she said.
Three blocks over and one down, Matthew Lloyd and Cathy Ho of New York had stopped Thursday evening to get a picture of the eye-popping abstract enlivening a parking lot next to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
Lloyd, who’s originally from Oxford, England, said Ho had wanted a photo when they visited the museum earlier in the day but was deterred because a homeless man was sleeping in front of it.
“I just don’t like anyone in my pictures,” said Ho, who’s originally from Taiwan.
Two blocks up and four over is the “Survive” mural by Brandan “BMike” Odoms and members of the Young Artist Movement, an Arts Council umbrella for a number of organizations which provide paid internships in the arts.
Thursday evening, Odoms was using a man-lift to spray-paint shading on his figure’s head on the side wall of the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center. Students from Young Artist Movement were brushing in details of the paintings they’d created to fill in the letters of “SURVIVE”.
The capital I was a big blue gourd-shaped fish. Its creator, Shanti Broom, said she was inspired by fish-shaped Native American pottery. Broom said she had looked into such art because Native American stories got shortchanged during last year’s city tricentennial.
Schmalbach, whose organization also is behind 10 murals in the Fat City section of suburban Metairie, said the hardest part of the Arts District project was convincing building owners to donate walls.
“There’s still some stigma or worry around mural arts and vandalism graffiti,” she said. “Something we’re working on is to educate business owners … that property values are increased and the whole district becomes more lively and interesting.”