This summer will see several art exhibitions around New Orleans commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
But one event this month seeks to focus attention on a crucial ongoing issue that has affected southern Louisiana since long before the storm.
Over the weekend of May 8, the second annual Wetlands Art Tour will take place at 20 venues across town and in St. Bernard Parish. More than 100 artists, performers, educators and activists will “engage the community, inspire, have important conversations and take action” on matters related to coastal land loss and wetlands restoration, according to the project’s mission statement.
For event producer John Calhoun, the Wetlands Art Tour began as a way of extending the conversations that originated at the Goodnight Show, a monthly live talk show he organizes at Café Istanbul in the Faubourg Marigny.
“I was looking for ways to work on this important issue outside of the talk show and began brainstorming with other artists and activists,” Calhoun said. “This is such a huge and urgent topic, yet I don’t think it comes up enough in people’s day-to-day conversations.”
This year’s program has expanded from its downtown origins to include an art opening and panel discussion at the Ashé Cultural Center in Central City, which will kick off the weekend’s events on Friday evening. On Saturday, an organized group bike ride to Bayou Bienvenue will explore the farthest reaches of the Lower 9th Ward.
Calhoun says participatory events like the bike ride are key to the Wetland Art Tour’s mission. “It will be an opportunity to see firsthand the results of coastal land loss without leaving Orleans Parish,” he said.
The ride will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Clouet Gardens in the Bywater, where later in the day there will also be performances featuring Cajun music by La Bande de Plaquemine Brûlée as well as food, information kiosks and kids’ activities.
With its lovingly tended seating areas and open play space, the garden is a model for the community-focused reclamation of empty and abandoned lots all over the city.
Also on Saturday afternoon, the new 5 Press Gallery at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts will host a conversation with artists and environmental activists Mark Davis, John Taylor, Brooks Frederick and Delaina Leblanc, along with a musical performance by Danny O’Flaherty.
The conversation will be followed by a screening of New Orleans filmmaker Kevin McCaffrey’s 2013 documentary “MRGO-ing, Going, Gone?” which examines the catastrophic effects the ill-fated and now-closed shipping channel continues to have on the landscape of southern Louisiana.
The Wetland Art Tour’s events on Saturday evening will dovetail with the regularly scheduled second Saturday art openings throughout the St. Claude Arts District in the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater.
Highlights will include a solo exhibition at Barrister’s Gallery (2331 St. Claude) of work by Brooks Frederick, who uses tar and oil collected from the BP oil spill to create compelling portraits of individuals affected by the disaster; Pippin Frisbie-Calder’s prints inspired by wetland microorganisms at The Tigerman Den (3113 Royal); and photographer Richard Waller’s spare and haunting swamp landscapes at the Orange Couch (2339 Royal).
More than a dozen other galleries and performance spaces along and around the St. Claude corridor also will be showing wetlands-inspired work that evening, along with poetry readings and film screenings.
“Art has a way of reaching people and inspiring people,” Calhoun said. “And I believe it is an important part of how we respond to Louisiana’s environmental crisis.”
For information, including a program schedule and map, visit wetlandsarttour.com.