Lynette Norris Wilkinson Lecture and Book Signing

The Living Museum was honored to host Lynette Norris Wilkinson, an award winning author who was born and raised in the Lower Ninth Ward, as part of the Living Museum Speaker Series events. Ms. Wilkinson gave a lecture to a packed room, and shared moving stories of strength and survival. Her talk was incredibly well recieved and was a beautiful addition to a weekend of Mardi Gras festivities.

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Ms. Wilkinson is the author of UntoldThe New Orleans 9th Ward You Never Knew, a book that features the stories of survival and community through the voices of sixteen Lower Ninth Ward residents. In Untold, Lynette Wilkinson delves deeply into the stories and voices of Lower 9th Ward Residents in their continued fight for survival and justice, during and since Hurricane Katrina.

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Through her eloquent depiction of the integrity, strength and resilience of Lower 9th Ward residents, Ms. Wilkinson inherently challenges the racialized mainstream media coverage that wrongly depicted residents in her community in 2005.  Untold provides thorough and detailed accounts of the true experiences of local residents, and remains the only book of its kind to do so.  Untold is an essential read to better understand the continued plight of the Lower 9th Ward community in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The proceeds from Untold are donated to organizations helping residents in the Lower Ninth Ward to recover.  Check out her website and purchase a book!

Will they ever reopen the Claiborne Bridge?

The Judge Seeber Bridge (more commonly referred to as the Claiborne Bridge) has been closed since August 2nd so that the Department of Transportation and Development can give it a new layer of paint.

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When open, the DOTD estimates that the Claiborne Bridge carries over 26,000 commuters every day. Needless-to-say its prolonged closure has had a huge impact on traffic, pushing all commuters through St. Claude and significantly affecting access to and from the Lower Ninth Ward.

The bridge was originally slated to open on August 24th (a “short” 22 day project), but as that date approached the DOTD announced that the bridge would remain closed throughout Labor Day Weekend. In the following week, the DOTD pushed the date back yet again, announcing that the bridge couldn’t be reopened until mid-october. Now officials are citing the “Karen Delay” for yet another set back, and are only “optimistic” that the bridge could open “in the mid/late October time frame.”

9th Ward residents have repeatedly expressed their frustration with the DOTD’s lack of consideration. One community member posted to the Judge Seeber Bridge Maintenance Project Facebook Page:

“As the Claiborne bridge continues to be up, it is very difficult for those of us who need to access St. Claude from the Ninth Ward do so…It is getting increasingly frustrating to make it across the canal daily as St. Claude remains so congested and Florida Street with its own low bridge, rapidly deteriorating roadbed, three sets of train tracks and now increasing traffic seems to be really starting to wear on motorists.”

The owners of Café Dauphine in the Lower Ninth Ward told WWLTV that the bridge closure has negatively impacted their business as well, delaying kitchen set up and holding up important deliveries to the Marigny and Bywater area.

WATER040808Many local residents have also questioned the decision to close the bridge during Hurricane season. When the threat of Hurricane Karen was looming a week ago, Lower Ninth Ward residents were warned that on top of the Claiborne Bridge closure, “the St. Claude Bridge could be up during rush hour should the Coast Guard order an evacuation of the Industrial Canal.”

The prolonged bridge closure and disregard for the Lower Ninth Ward’s accessibility follows in a very long history of geographic isolation. Since the decision to construct the Industrial Canal in 1923, the Lower Ninth Ward has been both symbolically and physically cut off from the rest of New Orleans.

industrial-canal-lockjpg-bfc88d8cfe4fb072While residents are forced to suffer the negative impact of geographic isolation and the harmful effects of lead-based paint in the air, the private contractor (Texas Bridge Inc. of Humble Texas) is raking in a reported $4.8 million for the painting project.

Yet another example of the government prioritizing profits over people in the Lower Ninth Ward.

8th Anniversary Katrina Celebration in the 9th Ward

For anyone who’s going to be around, make sure to join us tomorrow and Thursday for the 8th Anniversary Katrina Celebration in the 9th Ward!

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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 28th  

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6pm – 9pm
RECEPTION AND PHOTO EXHIBITION
Featuring photos of the Robert Lynn Green, Sr. Collection, Ted Ellis Paintings and Feature Photographers. Live music by New Orleanian Joe Crachiola.
Tekrema Center for Arts and Culture 
5640 Burgundy Street 
New Orleans LA, 70117

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THURSDAY, AUGUST 29th 
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4:00pm – 7:00pm   
“MAKE IT RIGHT” FAMILY CELEBRATION & HOUSING FORUM

1844 Tennessee Street 
New Orleans LA, 70117 
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5:00pm – 6:00pm  
“8TH ANNUAL KATRINA SECONDLINE/WREATH PLACEMENT”

1826 Tennessee Street 
New Orleans LA, 70117 
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7:00pm – 9:00pm  
“FEATURE FILMS SHOWN OFF THE FRONT WALL ROBERT GREEN’S HOUSE”

FILMS BY:  JONATHAN DEMME: “THE RIGHT TO RETURN” TENNESSEE ST                                   DISCOVERY CHANNEL: “FLOODS” Searching for Solace:Robert                                  Green’s — Katrina Lower 9th Ward Nightmare
                   KEITH CALHOUN and CHANDRA McMORMICK–L9 Center                                                for the Arts: “HEROES OF THE STORM”
                   ESTEE BLACHARD: “FROM MY HEART”
                   NATIONAL RELIEF NETWORK “CHILDREN OF THE STORM”
                   DR. RICK LEVINE FEATURES FILMS–ROBERT LYNN GREEN, SR”
                   NEW NEW ORLEANIAN JOE CRACHIOLA  —  PHOTO ESSAY

1826 Tennessee Street
New Orleans LA, 70117 
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For more information, please contact Robert Lynn Green Sr., president of the Historic Lower Ninth Ward Association, at (504)201-8860 or via email at grrob1207@aol.com

Shoot & Capture; The Politics of Photography

Cameras can be instruments of self-empowerment. They are tools used to create, innovate, and preserve knowledge in unprecedented ways.

For the past two years, more than forty residents have graciously allowed us to videotape and/or audio record their life experiences in the name of preserving and sharing the Lower Ninth Ward’s history. Cameras have provided us with the invaluable opportunity to document generations of stories that are too easily forgotten. It’s safe to say that the Living Museum couldn’t exist without the ability to record oral histories of Lower Ninth Ward residents.

As we seek to minimize the negative footprint of this project, it’s important to explore the more harmful implications of the instruments we use to record each story.

While the camera provides us with opportunities for innovation, it also has a dark history that can’t be ignored. If you have ever had an unwanted camera in your face, you’ve likely felt its potential to be aggressive and intrusive. Throughout history the camera has often been used as a weapon – to exploit, colonize, invade, twist and objectify. Even the words associated with the camera are inherently violent: to “shoot” a scene and to “capture” an image. As Susan Sontag said, “to photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.” Whether or not the camera is used with good intentions, the act of video taping inherently involves issues of ownership and representation.

As outsiders coming into this community bearing microphones and video cameras, it is imperative that we carry a deeper understanding of the tools we rely on. This means repeatedly acknowledging the magnitude of each interview, and our role in preventing such exchanges from being exploitative. It requires acknowledging our profound responsibility to protect every local resident’s story from being abused or misused and necessitates constantly negotiating ethical and respectful ways to showcase and honor each oral history.

The Living Museum exists to honor the rich history of the Lower Ninth Ward, as told strictly through the voices of local residents. The implications of using a camera to record history are undeniably complex, but the bottom line is not. We might hold the camera but we are not the storytellers, and this history will never belong to us.

“It’s Just a Show-and-Tell” – Disaster Tourism in the Lower Ninth Ward

It’s not uncommon to see a tour bus or limousine with tinted windows wind its way slowly through the Lower Ninth Ward.

Often times you’ll see cameras dangling from car windows while tourists snap photos of boarded up houses and slabs of concrete where houses used to be. There’s no question that much of the infrastructural state of this community (eight years after the devastating levee failure) is nothing short of abhorrent. But these tours are voyeuristic and highly offensive to local residents, and according to WDSU “On Your Side,” they’re often illegal.

Lower Ninth Ward resident, Chasity Stinnett, told WDSU that at times she feels “paranoid, on display and uneasy about letting her children play outside.” Stinnett says, “It’s just a show-and-tell, I mean, we’re not animals, you know.”

According to the news clip, James Gray of the New Orleans City Council has pledged to support the Lower Ninth Ward residents who want bus tours out of their community. He told WDSU that “people here have clearly indicated that they don’t want to be like animals in a zoo, and there’s an ordinance to protect them, and we’re going to… see to it that the police department enforces that ordinance.”

This has been said before. The Lower Ninth Ward has a long history of community activism, and this social justice issue proves no different. There’s nothing new about local residents speaking out against the damaging impact of disaster tourism.

In addition to organizing and reaching out to public officials, residents have fought back by erecting powerful signs, directed specifically at tourists (like the one pictured). And just last year, Travelers Today published an article featuring local resident Vanessa Gueringer, who told the AP, “We’re fed up and tired of them coming through the neighborhood like we’re some sideshow…After all the suffering we have been through, we deserve more respect than this.” As tour companies continue to exploit the Lower Ninth Ward for profit, concerns of local residents are being ignored, and city ordinances (claiming to protect local residents) are going entirely unenforced.

Once it’s open, the Living Museum is intended to serve and honor local residents first and foremost, but it also has the potential to direct (what seems like) inevitable disaster tourism away from the voyeuristic and damaging practice of bus tours, to a place where residents’ voices are actually heard. We hope for the Living Museum to operate as a place where visitors can learn about and honor the rich history of this community, straight from the mouths of local residents, without endorsing illegal “Show-and-Tell” bus tours or burdening residents to tell their stories again and again.  

As local activist Jenga Mwendo so eloquently put it in her article Jungleland, Really? A Lower Ninth Ward Response, “For every vegetation covered lot, there is a story, and much of the story is hard working people trying to make the historic Lower 9th Ward whole again.” It’s the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum’s mission to make sure these powerful stories are honored and heard, while doing whatever we can to minimize the negative footprint of disaster tourism.

For more information on disaster tourism in the Lower Ninth Ward, check out the entire WDSU clip here, and make sure to read Jenga Mwendo’s powerful response article in full at the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development’s blog.

Next Stop on the Quest for Photo Permissions – The HNOC!

While a major focus of the Living Museum is to highlight oral histories of local residents, the Museum will also showcase archival research in order to tell the story of the Lower Ninth Ward.

One of our favorite things about opening the Living Museum has been the opportunity to dig through endless archives and photo collections throughout New Orleans. Staff members and volunteers have been researching and solidifying exhibit content for over two years now, finding as much historical information and photography pertaining to the history of the Lower Ninth Ward as possible.

Throughout this process, the queen bee of local archives has been none other than the Historic New Orleans Collection. The HNOC is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to the study and preservation of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South region. From the beginning, they have been incredibly helpful, allowing us to find and request photos pertaining to each of the Living Museum exhibits.

Recently, Stephanie and I had the pleasure of stopping by the Williams Research Center in order to finalize the formal photo request form and have it submitted. We met with Jennifer Navarre, the HNOC Reference Associate who is handling all requests pertaining to the Living Museum. On top of helping us with the official paperwork, she was able to locate an additional map that we had been looking for (a map from 1858, showing all of the New Orleans plantations by name). We’re really excited to go back to the Research Center in the next couple of weeks in order to comb through the archives once more and look for possible last minute contributions to the exhibits.

Before heading out Stephanie and I decided to check out the HNOC Museum as well, about a block away. Like the Research Center, the HNOC Museum is absolutely beautiful and very well organized.photo 1 (4) photo 4 (1)We learned about New Orleans history beginning in the 1700’s, and made sure to try (often unsuccessfully) to locate the Lower Ninth Ward on every map we passed. On the way out we ended up chatting with a very knowledgeable docent who answered some of our burning questions about old maps and artifacts.photo 2 (4) In addition to learning about the rich and often dark history of New Orleans, we were able to see different methods for hanging and mounting exhibits professionally.photo 2 (3)

All in all it was a really educational and eye opening visit to the HNOC! For those in the area we highly recommend visiting the museum (free admission!), and for anyone researching the history of New Orleans, make sure to stop by the Williams Research Center (ask for Jennifer! She’s very helpful).

A big thanks to all of the people at the HNOC who have helped us get this museum up and running!