I’ve been thinking a lot about Doug McCash’s story in last Sunday’s Times-Picayune — the one about the Kirsha Kaechele Project in the St. Roch area. For those who didn’t read it, McCash reported on a cluster of decaying post-Katrina houses on North Villere Street that were part of Prospect One, the first international New Orleans Biennial that ran from October 2008 to January 2009. These KKProjects properties once housed, McCash wrote, “New Orleans’ most adventurous art showplace,” but now have been abandoned by their 34-year-old “curator” and founder. According to the article, she has flown the coop for Tasmania.
No doubt, when Kaechele decided to adopt the roughest part of the St. Roch area as her home it was because, in her own words (and I choose to believe them) she “fell in love with New Orleans” and it was a section of town she could afford. Purchasing a series of houses to be used by visiting artists as art installations was certainly unique in that neck of the woods. But, as she said in one online interview, her neighbors seemed to have a “very natural connection” to the art.
Members of the Uptown social set, the New Orleans art community and the occasional visiting New Yorker were wooed and bewitched by the exotic nature of Kaechele’s venture. Making brave journeys to a part of town they had rarely entered, they accepted invitations to events such as a dinner in the street at one long table for 100 while drinking champagne. They dined, Kaechele said in an Interview Magazine article, “in the middle of complete destruction.”
At the time, I will admit, I found all of this disturbing and distasteful. Personally, I think the idea of using a distressed neighborhood as a place to make art is laudable. But as a canvas for what ends up being a “vacation from normal life” for an artist dilettante, well that, I think, is not.
So this is my dilemma. Should some of those across-town visitors who drank their champagne surrounded by blight organize something to clean up this current mess? Do they have any responsibility at all to rescue the abandoned KKProjects properties?
I would understand if the general feeling is that they don’t. But then, who does? No good talking to Kirsha Kaechele; she is as far away as anyone could go.
I’m looking for answers.
Here is a video about the New Orleans art project:
Sharon Litwin writes for NolaVie about the cultural community.