Colorful murals to brighten miles of floodwall

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A team of New Orleans artists has been given the go-ahead to paint colorful murals on the drab floodwalls along 1 1/2 miles of Tchoupitoulas Street. Most of the work is to be completed for the New Orleans tricentennial celebration in 2018.

New Orleans International Muralists LLC, headed by coordinator Daniel “DeeJay” Pate and lead artist Jamar Pierre, won its last required permit from the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East on Thursday (May 18). It already had received permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The murals will be similar to an original artwork titled “Resilience” by Pierre. That piece includes images based on New Orleans’ history, music and culture, including Mardi Gras Indians, jazz musicians, riverboats and the city’s architectural features.

The group “wants to integrate all that speaks to the soul of new Orleans: music, second lines, social clubs, historical figures, traveling along the river, shipping and receiving, historical events, legal and governmental proceedings, the Native Americans and Mardi Gras Indians,” says a mural project description provided to levee authority members.

Pate, a Mardi Gras Indian himself, was a classroom schoolteacher in New Orleans for 10 years and also has worked as an academic adviser with the University of New Orleans’ Upward Bound program. He has organized public art events, murals and private and corporate art projects for the past 16 years.

Pierre’s clients have included Time Warner Entertainment, Essence Magazine (including a poster for the 2007 Essence Music Festival), the cit of New Orleans and the Fore!Kids Foundation. His artwork was featured in the second season of HBO television’s “Treme” series. A 70-foot mural by Pierre is on the side of St. Peter Claver Catholic School.

Pate said he hopes to begin priming some of the floodwalls for painting within a few days. The hiring of as many as 10 artists for the project must wait until the group has raised at least $50,000 in donations from the public. He estimated that the entire project will cost $300,000 to $450,000.

Pate has set up two ways for the public to donate, either through the mural firm’s web site, or at a GoFundMe web site.

Artists will start at 9th and Tchoupitoulas streets and work downriver to Jackson Avenue.

Pate said that when he and Pierre began work on obtaining approvals for the murals in 2014, they estimated the project would take 18 months to complete. Pate hopes that most of the walls can still be completed within a year to meet the October 2018 date of the city’s 300th birthday.

The plan is to march downriver into history, with the first panels dedicated to events in the 2000s, then working back in time, Pate said. Each mural segment will cover the entire floodwall, using materials approved in advance by the Army Corps of Engineers. Floodgates will not be painted.

The artists also have agreed to set aside $2,500 to $5,000 annually for maintenance costs, including removal of graffiti at least quarterly.

The team hopes to extend the project downriver along an older segment of the wall, below Jackson Avenue, that contains more than 100 archway panels. Much of that work depends on whether they receive financial support from major donors such as Walmart, which is located across the street from many of the arches.

In a letter to the corps, the team committed to painting the first 17 archways between Josephine Street and Jackson Avenue.

“We intend to have a collective of artists do a series of famous doorways or a series of ‘comic strip’ style displays that peek into New Orleans’ past as it relates to the Port of New Orleans and its shipping and receiving industry, plus the recreational vessels that have traveled up and down the Mississippi River over the last 300 years,” the letter said.