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Why New Orleans is worthy of Prospect.2

Prospect.2 — the much anticipated, much awaited, and much debated international biennial in New Orleans — opens across the city this weekend. Twenty-seven international artists will exhibit site-specific installations, public performances, and exhibitions in venues throughout New Orleans and Lafayette. The city-wide art event will run through January 29, 2012.

Now, we all love New Orleans’ rich and unique culture. New Orleans is home to jazz, Mardi Gras Indians, and even a few Banksys, but in the wake of funding issues that arose after Prospect.1, one must ask: Is New Orleans the place to host an international US biennial?

While New Orleans steals our hearts, as well as those of tourists on a daily basis (does anyone really know a single person who has visited New Orleans and been less than enthralled and infatuated with the city?), the art current here is not as strong as it is in, say, New York (although a biennial in New York does not have the same je ne sais quois or joie de vivre as one in New Orleans) or Los Angeles (yes, I am biased toward the city as a former native, but L.A. has had a pedigree as an art community since the mid-20th century — as evidenced in this month’s Pacific Standard Time).

That being said, New Orleans boasts a unique way of life and culture that is much deserving of the international renown that comes with hosting an international biennial. But that still does not remedy the fact that many people in the art community were upset with Artistic Director Dan Camreon’s P.1 biennial in 2008. Though it was supposed to support New Orleans post-Katrina, the exhibition incurred more debt and did not bring the acclaim many had hoped.

So why a biennial in New Orleans? Because, as citizens of this fine city, we can all boast that it IS worthy of the national attention. Whether it is to exhibit amazing art from local and international artists, to showcase the incredible power of a community intent on rebuilding itself after Katrina and the oil spill, or to emphasise the unique culture that could only come from a diverse, culturally rich city like New Orleans, the city is certainly a deserving host of an international art event.

In Cameron’s words, “New Orleans has long been an urban wonderland where creative spirits by the thousands came from elsewhere to live and work, and from that starting point, it is becoming transformed into a place where art lovers from around the world can indulge in the city’s natural and cultural beauty, while enjoying some of the most exciting new art being made today.”

A biennial highlights our cultural heritage while also rejoicing in the artistic diversity of international artists. If there is one thing New Orleans is, it is a city of acceptance and, if for that reason alone, one to be recognized and lauded. However, P.2 is a reminder that art cannot be taken at face value. Though it is aesthetically pleasing and can at times speak to the soul, it is subject to the same political and social struggles that afflict the rest of our world.

Yet it still is a medium that can unite humanity and cross cultural barriers. For this reason, we should celebrate and experience P.2 and deem our fair city a place fit to host a biennial of international art.

Brianna Smyk has an M.A in Art History from San Diego State University. She lives and works in New Orleans and writes about arts and culture for NolaVie. Read more of Brianna’s articles at


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