One of the busiest neutral grounds in downtown New Orleans might not seem the best place for a conversation.
But that’s exactly what the latest addition to a rotating selection of public art along the Poydras Street corridor in the Central Business District is all about.
Titled “Bravegirl,” artist Tara Conley’s colorful aluminum word sculpture — painted a deep plum and enhanced with iridescent metallic accents — is the latest addition to the Poydras Corridor Sculpture Exhibition presented by The Helis Foundation.
It’s also a Sculpture for New Orleans piece, in partnership with The Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the New Orleans Department of Parks and Parkways — a mouthful of institutions which have been working together to bring world-class public art to the Central Business District since 2013.
Based in Houston, Conley is already familiar to those paying attention to public art in the CBD as the creator of the 8-foot-tall “Bronze Bunny” which was installed in Lafayette Square in 2008.
Her more recent works translate words and sentences into three-dimensional free-standing and wall pieces rendered in various media, including steel and bronze.
Created as an outgrowth of the artist’s interest in female empowerment, “Bravegirl” began in a list of words Conley recorded after overhearing them in public conversations.
“When I make sculpture with them, those moments become reincarnated,” said Conley. “Displaying the work on Poydras gives life to entirely new moments for everyone who sees the sculpture.”
Conley said the word that inspired the piece has power — power that she sees as "dynamic, certain, open ended, not yet in the dictionary, candid (and) nonthreatening."
Passers-by can come up with their own word lists on Monday, when “Bravegirl” will be unveiled to the public at the intersection of Poydras and North Peters streets at the beginning of a daylong series of events celebrating International Sculpture Day.
The day will also include an art workshop for high school students conducted by Conley at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, followed by a panel discussion in which Conley will be joined by artists Rachel David and Ashley Pridmore to discuss their art and its role in empowering communities. The talk is free and open to the public.
Outside of the museum, Conley hopes the collective — and collaborative — nature of her work will continue as long as the piece is on view.
“Everyone participates, since the work exists in the public domain,” said Conley. “Its existence connects people no matter their background, age, gender, or taste in art.”
And David Kerstein, president of The Helis Foundation, sees “Bravegirl” in its larger context as part of the continuing mission of the public art series.
“We hope that the Poydras Corridor Sculpture Exhibition presented by The Helis Foundation not only inspires conversation,” said Kerstein, “but the next generation of New Orleans artists.”