St. Claude’s April 14 Second Saturday Art Walk will feature the reopening of “The Music Box: A Shantytown Sound Laboratory,” from 6-9 p.m. Though this spring opening (which will run through June 9 and will be open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays from 12-5 p.m.) will not host the same music performances as many enjoyed last fall, it will allow audiences to explore and experience the prototyping phase one of Dithyrambalina.
“The Music Box” is only a temporary structure, a “test-run” for the permanent Dithyrambalina (phase two of the project). Its one-of-a-kind musical instruments and structures were built on the site of a blighted house in the Bywater using repurposed materials from the original structure. Phase one has allowed musicians, artists, and curators to see how the current incarnations of structures and instruments have engaged the community; it also has offered an opportunity to consider any necessary redesigns before phase two.
Dithyrambalina is aptly named — diverging from the term “dithyramb,” an ancient greek coral performed in rapture to summon the greek god of wine, Dionysus — with its implications of wine and music fitting for a structure dedicated to the city and people of New Orleans. The project is led by Swoon, the street artist who is known for her community-driven endeavors, as well as by New Orleans Airlift, which aims to provide New Orleans artists with the resources and career opportunities necessary to enable them to grow their success and, in doing so, bring New Orleans and its community of artists some well-deserved recognition. Airlift provides opportunities both in New Orleans and “abroad.”
Dithyrambalina is a prime example of the New Orleans Airlift fulfilling its vision of providing opportunities through collaboration. Airlift artists Taylor Shepherd and Christian Repall worked with Swoon on her “Ice Queen” instillation for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s 2011 “Art in the Streets” exhibition, and have been working with her on a consistent basis ever since, including “The Music Box.”
“The Music Box” exists to give back not only to its artists, as musical director Jay Pennington, who is also a part of Airlift, has sought to do throughout the project, but also to give to the community. Phase one has created beauty out of blight and salutes the New Orleans community for its enduring ability to revive and rebuild. It has provided an opportunity for the artist to engage with the community and garner its feedback, which will ultimately make the permanent Dithyrambalina structure something of a collaboration of the city. Creative director and curator Delaney Martin says “The Music Box” truly “comes from the fabric of the city.” It demonstrates the universal power of music, which is so dear to the heart of New Orleans, to appeal to people of all backgrounds and bring them together.
In phase two, Dithyrambalina will find a permanent location somewhere in the Bywater, maintaining the roots of the place and community to which it is devoted. The final Dithyrambalina will be a landmark arts and education destination where local schools, musicians, and the community can come together to learn, think, engage, and enjoy. Martin and associate curator Theo Elizer envision anchoring a series of concerts and educational components around three rotating artists residencies per year. Dithyrambalina will spark conversation and broach questions: is it art, an education facility, a musical house, or some new nobrow conglomerate of culture?
In any incarnation, the space will always be a reimagining of a blighted house, representing the opportunity to “create wonder and possibility where you didn’t expect it,” says Martin, which is why “The Music Box” so aptly represents New Orleans. It is built out of quotidian materials by the community and for the community and is made more beautiful because its aesthetic beauty and musical rhythms beat in tune with the heartbeat and artistic visions of the city. The new instruments allow people to make music without judgement and to redefine the success of making music and of art.
The fate of “The Music Box” is still yet to be determined. The structures will be deinstalled in June. Hopefully this beautiful representation of the strength and vibrancy of the city will find a permanent home somewhere in New Orleans (or possibly abroad), allowing the beauty and joy of this musical house to continue to delight audiences for years to come.
Whatever the fate of “The Music Box” may be, over the next two months we are fortunate to be able to engage with and enjoy “The Music Box” and our community in our beautiful city.