ARTSPACELA_DEC

In partnership with artists, politicians, neighborhood and philanthropic leaders, Artspace is working to convert the six-building, two-block Bell School campus in the heart of the historic Tremé neighborhood into a vibrant, multi-faceted arts facility. What today is vacant and dilapidated space will be re-animated by artists and creative people as a catalyzing community asset.

ArtPlace talks to Project Manager Joe Butler about the challenges regarding capacity as Artspace has worked to move the project forward.

ARTPLACE: What has been the thorniest issue you’ve faced to date? How have you dealt with it?

BUTLER: All of Artspace’s work in New Orleans must remain in context of seven-plus years of post-Katrina recovery. In fact, a pressing argument can be made that legitimate (real) city government-led recovery within a holistic plan, with vision and measurable goals, has only been in process for approximately years. That is, of course, both good and bad news.

Previous to the Landrieu administration, the city seemed to lack both a comprehensive vision and the capacity to implement broad, inventive and deep strategies. The New Orleans recovery was largely a state- and federal-led effort. A wide range of factors forced city administration, departments and staff into secondary roles within the realm of policy development and funds disbursement.

The scale of the disaster and the size of the following opportunities were beyond the pale of skill sets and assets readily available – even with the best of intentions – within city government.

Artspace was a participant at multiple discussion tables regarding the culture economy and the physical infrastructure that is needed to recover. These discussions roughly divided into distinct areas of spaces for presentation, rehearsal and arts administration and of course – housing for artists.

Although practitioners and representatives from various groups identified opportunities, the city proved a very difficult partner. Fortunately, seven years into recovery New Orleans now has, not only a functioning, but fully competent group of leaders and staff capable of recognizing the opportunities. The Bell School Arts Campus is an example of a comprehensive multi-agency commitment to arts and cultural infrastructure investment within a partnership of neighborhood development.

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