Nothing has ever looked more like the post-Katrina New Orleans apocalypse than the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street in recent weeks.
Empty streets. Vacant buildings. The vigor of the neighborhoods now bereft of life, love, noise and revelry. Boarded up doorways and windows. Plywood City. Lumber Town. Desolation Row.
So few people. So little sound. So little joy. So little art. Until…
Until an army of local street artists took to the neighborhoods in recent weeks to whip up small points of visual joy for the folks who face the stark reminder when they peer out their shuttered windows every day that everything sucks.
What began as an endless brown plywood landscape on Royal and Frenchmen Streets – businesses, boutiques and galleries locking in and boarding up their wares indefinitely – has been slowly reborn as a vibrant canvass that depicts our city life in a time of crisis, pandemic. Emptiness. Fear.
Literally, an outdoor museum. A diary of madness and hope in bright, shiny colors.
Onto these blank canvases this Silent Spring have sprung panels of local color, celebration, pride, even comedy and joy. Images of dancing animals, silhouette lovers, local heroes, Louis Armstrong. Social commentaries. Political rants. Of gypsies and jazz. Self-referential images, in the way that street artists can be self-referential. All bringing light and reverie to empty, ghostly streets – a new horizon of color, imagination, wishes, dreams.
Of life. How it used to be. How it is now. How it might be reborn again.
Remember the Katrina refrigerators? It’s sort of like that – public billboards in pandemic — but without the toxic stink of your neighbors’ rotting dairy and produce.
A city speaks to itself through its street art. It’s been a rare period where residents of the French Quarter and the Marigny not only do not protest the scourge of underemployed creatives armed with spray paint cans marching through their neighborhoods, but actually celebrate them.
It’s been a sense of pride, particularly along Royal and Frenchmen, that has grown as New Orleans – once again – finds a way to find joy in a time of disaster.
And then. OK, if you haven’t already heard, let me be the bearer of bad news.
Dozens, scores of street artists have been bringing sweetness and lights to these desolated streets. Painting on plywood – not bricks and mortar – let that be clear. And then one of them, a rogue, a presumably disgruntled, under-appreciated rogue, broke ranks.
A guy was filmed by several security cameras over the weekend defacing and defiling these beautiful pieces of spontaneous art and expression. Erasing the joy. Spray painting all those pictures that brought glimmers to glimmerless streets.
Here’s the thing. I know who he is. Everyone knows who he is. I reached out to him for comment but have not heard back.
I’m not willing to out him here. (After all, what if I’m wrong!) But for more on this story, check out the Facebook page of the artist Amzie Adams, one of the contributors to the color blossoms of a gray city – and one whose own paintings were painted over.
I don’t like telling stories like this. But I like it even less when one douche bag is willing to walk down our sad city streets and erase what small visual joy still exists.
I now understand that term: One bad apple.
Rise up, city. There’s still more time, more paint, and more plywood. These walls tell our story. These walls don’t lie.