10 May 2009

NoLA Rising plans a New Orleans mural

A group of New Orleans art activists hopes to produce the nation's longest mural on a length of floodwall in the Lower 9th Ward.

The painting would stretch along the east side of the Industrial Canal from North Derbigny Street to Florida Avenue, bordering a neighborhood that suffered apocalyptic flooding when the wall gave way after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The plan: 65 artists would divide the concrete ribbon, each rendering a version of a New Orleans home, symbolically rebuilding a part of the city that is still largely empty. At 3,900 feet, the mural would outdistance the somewhat similar 2,754-foot Great Wall of Los Angeles.

All the mural-makers need is permission and money.

One of the goals, art activist Michael "Rex" Dingler said, is to improve the quality of life by discouraging graffiti.

"This is not going to be a graffiti wall, in no shape or form, " Dingler said. "There will be no graffiti style."

Dingler, a maritime shipping agent and former Marine, is an unlikely Crescent City counterculture icon. In the months after Katrina, he took it upon himself to replace lost street signs with colorful substitutes fashioned from storm debris. He and friends branched out, creating folksy wooden signs that read "smile, " "laugh, " "joy, " "sing, " "dance, " "keep the faith."

He called his self-styled public art project NoLA Rising.

Not everyone appreciated Dingler's street-level cheerleading. Anti-graffiti patrols painted over his placards and eventually he was fined $200 for illegally placing signs on telephone poles. Though Dingler says he's never taken to the streets with spray paint, he soon found himself a cause celebre among the city's pro-graffiti faction.

Instead of illegally posting artworks, Dingler began hosting paint parties where anyone could make NoLA Rising-style signs. Now he hopes to make the leap from small signs to one of the world's largest artworks.

He and a handful of friends have begun transforming NoLA Rising into an official public institution, forming a board of directors and applying for nonprofit, tax-exempt status so they can raise money for the mural they've dubbed the United Artist Front.

In April, the group auctioned 165 pieces of donated art (including works by notable graffiti artists) at the Old U.S. Mint, raising roughly $8,000 for the mural.

Next, Dingler says that NoLA Rising will seek the go-ahead from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and New Orleans City Council. NoLA Rising will select the artists but, he said, area residents may have a role in dictating the style and content of the painting.

Darlene Mosley, a lifelong resident whose home was flooded and who recently moved into one of Brad Pitt's "Make It Right" houses, has a view of the wall from her porch. Like others in the neighborhood, she offered guarded approval, so long as the mural doesn't depict anything "nasty, " as she put it.

"It would be nice to look at something different, " Mosley said. "There's nothing to look at over there now . . . the bridge and traffic and boats that pass by, that's it."

Jane Golden, executive director of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, has overseen the creation of the 3,000 gigantic paintings that speckle that cityscape. Murals can be a social and economic boon, she said, adding that start-up projects should "be cognizant of capturing the voice of the community. . . . If you start with something great, it will lead to other projects."

Golden said that in the early days of the Philadelphia mural project, spray paint was not allowed, though many of the artists were one-time taggers.

Dingler said he accepts graffiti-style painting as a valid art form but he doubts spray painting will play a part in the mural, which he hopes will deter taggers.

Others, such as West Coast anti-graffiti crusader Randy Campbell, say graffiti artists will not avoid another artist's work.

"In the case of the murals in Los Angeles, many were artistic murals and had nothing to do with graffiti, and these got vandalized by taggers more than the graffiti-style murals did, " Campbell said via e-mail. "Vandals do not respect any property."

Dingler argues that a legitimate mural program might help break the tit-for-tat struggle that's taking place in New Orleans, in which graffiti tags are covered in gray paint by anti-graffiti activists.

If things work out as he hopes, the three-quarter-mile mural might lead to similar painting projects on other walls that ring the flood-prone city.

"We want a whole program for the whole city, " Dingler said, "given that we are a city of walls."

Except pulled from Nola.com and can be found at this LINK

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