Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Art, The Neighborhood & Gentrification

This is a combination of two spontaneous posts I made on Facebook today. Since they seem to be making the rounds, I thought I might as well post them here, too.
Shopping with convenience, ya hurd?

I am frequently asked why I spend so much time ranting against inevitable gentrification, in favor a of relatively small slice of society, The Artists Community.
I could say it is because I place a high value on the Freedom of Expression, and I am, as such, a Patriot, or that I am consistently blinded by the dazzling array of talent that surrounds me, but those would be only the tip of the iceberg. In searching myself for reasons, I find them far too many to list here. Instead, I find that this search raises another question; Why are you not?
I've lived in the Marigny/Bywater for 18 years. I'm still kind of the 'new guy' to some of those who live here.
18 years ago, this neighborhood was like Deadwood. It was dangerous as all hell, with few working street lights, bad power connections, leaking roofs & slumlords, never mind the Clouet Street Crips, selling guns & crack in broad daylight.
Still, many local artists, poor, but working in the French Quarter service industry, moved here, largely because we couldn't afford to live anywhere else, or to take cabs, so we found places within bicycle distance of work, and held on.

Out of this rose a burgeoning art community. It wasn't easy & it wasn't cheap. Many of my friends (over a dozen) have been killed in the process, paying for their pioneer spirit with their lives. My friend & neighbor, Helen Hill, was shot in the face for answering her door, and her husband took five bullets in the back, protecting their 2 year old son from a crazed shooter that has never been caught. I will never, ever, forget waking up to those gunshots.
    Post K, these same poor and struggling artists, poets, musicians and their creed, are the people who came back. We rebuilt a community, and the houses in it, with our own money, sweat & sheer perseverance. We built an art community, complete with home galleries, that has attracted attention globally. The City of New Orleans refused us help, funding, street lights, police presence or any manner of assistance.

   Now that we have made this community safer & heralded as The New Bohemia, an up & coming destination location in the United States, City Hall has arrived with it's permit laws & trucks full of inspectors, ticketing bicyclists, shutting down legal galleries, raiding thrift & garage sales as "Illegal Businesses", beating, tasing & macing paraders, and creating new laws to make it nearly impossible to live here.
Corporate interests are buying up homes at ridiculous prices, and evicting tenants to move their own out of state cronies in. The City of New Orleans makes it extremely difficult for small local businesses to open and/or operate, choosing instead to concentrate on Tourism & the NFL dollars that make their eyes light up. There was even a recent attempt to create a 'Hospitality Zone' where a board of appointed (unelected with no term limits) business (read tourism businesses) people could tax these specific areas, and apply the money to their own advertising campaigns.
    In the meantime, I'm told I need a $400 permit to draw in my living room, and possibly a zoning ordinance to DRAW IN MY LIVING ROOM.
    In short, we are under attack. But as it plays out in the press, it becomes "well, wouldn't a nice corporate coffee shop be swell."

Except that people who actually live in this neighborhood have spent tens of thousands of dollars rebuilding & getting permits & fighting City Hall to open amazing coffee shops, already.
   But when the NFL or Starbucks, or whoever else has the Big Cash, flashes some money at City Hall, they roll over like an old hooker and sell out their constituents like Benedict Arnold.

    So understand when I see someone saying things that appear as though they think we are just too bored or lazy or apathetic to build communities and stand up against crime, I go ballistic.

    The biggest anti-violence organization in the city, Silence is Violence, formed in the wake of Helen's murder, is in the Marigny, where it was conceived & created. I know crime, & especially murder statistics, look bad. But that's because we have half bright clerk for a Police Chief, and a marketing director for Mayor.

   Please understand that these murder figures bother me as much as they do you. But there's a difference. To me, these are not numbers, or even fellow New Orleanians.
They are my friends, and they are dead.
  They are not statistics, but Keith who formed Noise fest, Wendye, who tended bar for us all, Helen, who walked her son & pet pig across the street and made wonderful cartoon films. I won't go on. I can't. I hate to admit it, but I'm tearing up thinking about so many dear, dear friends, shot down, senselessly, in their prime.
But they were doing something bigger than any of us. They were building a future.
   Now that future is for sale to any asshole with a platinum card & a BMW. And they will never know the wonderful people who gave everything to make that happen, in fact, those of us who are left are seen as, and treated like, a pariah, a nuisance, bad rubbish to be gotten rid of.
   They think, as (someone) said that we "could use a bit of gentrification."

I'm hoping you see things a little differently now.
I really am.
As for me, gentrification?
Not on your life.
Or any of the ones that were already lost.



mardi claw said...

couldn't agree with you more. as I stand before my neutral ground on st roch, and listen to the "newbies" who are about to take that walk, and grant money for their pockets, and create a loud obnoxious thing they tag as "art".

art thats supposed to help me sell more art, was one of the emails I got. another was telling me to quit stirring the pot, NEVER will I bow down. the artist picked for the "art walk" isn't even from here, and the walls, and benches, and stamped sidewalk, and wasted money, none of it will do anything about the crime, none of it will help me sell my art, and some of it? will attract more graffiti.

none of it will help the trees, which so badly are in need of some water, and good soil.

all because of gentrification, and some people who just moved here, and know FAR MORE THAN ANY OF US DO... with their urban developer eyes, and marigny addresses.

Lord David said...


BRONZE MEDAL; To the car with Texas plates, parked diagonally at the corner of Spain & Burgundy, and the driver who stood out in the street, glaring at whoever tried to squeeze past them. It would have been difficult, even with your drunk ass protecting your stupid fucking Lexus. Next time I'll run over your foot.

SILVER MEDAL; To the three women who rode down Burgundy, three abreast, at 2 miles an hour, and refused to let cars pass them, acting like they were the hottest thing on Earth. Make that, dumpy, rude, middle aged delusional women. As if.

GOLD MEDAL: To whoever walked their moose in front of my house, and let it take a 17 pound shit, directly in front of our door, and then left it there for someone else to shovel away. When I see you at this, and I will, I'll be crapping on your doorstep, front seat, dinner plate, whatever, for the rest of your stinky, pathetic life. Now go Google 'catapult', and start shopping for a helmet.

Phineas Grey said...

Great post LD. I love ya for it.