In the 1950’s and 60’s, many of New Orleans’ avant-garde artists, including my father, lived and worked in the French Quarter. The neighborhood was seedy but cool. It was filled with inspiring sights and sounds (and smells); it was teeming with creative people; and, most importantly, it was affordable. Believe it or not, the venerable Vieux Carré was once the epicenter of Southern Bohemia.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, that all changed. Tourism boomed and rents skyrocketed. “Starving artists” were pushed up and down the river. They set up shop in places like the Warehouse District, now also known as the Arts District, and the Faubourg Marigny. Eventually, these neighborhoods became pricy as well. The Bywater and Irish Chanel became the new refuge for artists. (I should know, I was one of them.)
After Hurricane Katrina, gentrification gobbled up much of the remaining “Sliver by the River,” and many artists were again squeezed out. They ended up settling in far-flung places like Gentilly, Old Jefferson, the Lower Ninth Ward and even Arabi.
Local artist, Mary Logan Rooney and her husband, Steve, also an artist, were part of this latest wave. They bought a beautiful old shotgun in the Holy Cross neighborhood. According to Mary, “We set up our home so that our studio spaces mingle with our living spaces. I love that the first thing I encounter when I walk through my front door is my studio space. It sets a precedent that our home is a space for creating.” And “create” is exactly what they do.
In addition to being a talented artist, Mary is also a passionate educator. She was part of the inaugural faculty at Young Audiences Charter School in Gretna, and she is now the Arts Integration Coordinator at Homer A. Plessy Community School in the French Quarter. There, in the city’s oldest neighborhood, she’s helping inspire a whole new generation of future avant-garde artists. Who knows, we may well have come full circle…
(Photos and collage by Folwell Dunbar)