Meet with the Times Picayune – CHECK!

For about a year, whenever Stephanie and I would spot the classic Times Picayune tower from the highway, we’d turn to each other and say, “we have to stop in there!” photo 1 (1)Yesterday, after an epic scavenger hunt through New Orleans, we finally made it happen.

The Times Picayune, being the official newspaper for Greater New Orleans, owns many of the photos and video clips we hope to use throughout the museum’s exhibits. In fact the Picayune newspaper operation has been around since 1837, documenting major events like the “Fall of New Orleans to Union Troops” in 1867 as well as the “First Modern Olympics” in 1896. photo 1On January 9th of 1967, the Times Picayune was the first to report that the New Olreans football team would be officially known as the Saints, named for the gospel-turned-jazz standard “When the Saints Go Marching In.” With such a rich and expansive archive, it’s no surprise that the Times Picayune is home to many photos that would help us share the history of the Lower Ninth Ward.

Our first stop was the old Times Picayune building, which was built in 1967 to house the publishing corporation. photo 2Although the building was huge and decorated with historic plaques, there didn’t seem to be much going on in terms of printing. The security guard at the front desk filled us in, and pointed us to an entirely different address. Recently, since physical newspapers are being replaced entirely by digital news blogs, the newspaper corporation has combined efforts with the media group and moved their main office to Canal street. So we hopped back in the car and headed into the city, still hoping to meet with someone from the Times Picayune photography division.

Turns out the Canal street office is hard to miss. The Times Picayune media headquarters resides on the top floor of Canal Place, one of the main attractions in “Downtown New Orleans.”photo 2 (1) Being on the 31st floor, the view of New Orleans was absolutely incredible. The office was bustling with people, and the lobby was filled with large flat screens that cycled through news coverage of New Orleans. photo 1 (3)After a couple of minutes, we had the pleasure of meeting Quo Vadis Sylve Hollins, executive assistant, who graciously walked us through the legal protocol for photo permissions. She accepted the application that Stephanie had typed up, and wished us luck with the opening of the museum. Now we just need to keep our fingers crossed that the application gets accepted and our photo permission requests are granted!

Once the elevator doors closed, Stephanie and I danced our way down the 31 floors and then shared an epic high five as we drove back to Deslonde Street. photo 2 (2)From now on, when we pass the classic Times Picayune tower from the highway, we can turn to each other and say “Been there, done that!”

Thanks to all of the Times Picayune staff members who were incredibly friendly and helpful. We look forward to collaborating with you in the future!

Off to a Hot Start

It’s official, the Living Museum crew has arrived at 1235 Deslonde Street for a summer of museum work and New Orleans heat. Image

The walls have been re-painted, photo permissions have been requested, the content is almost entirely finalized, the new website is up and running and the oral histories are being transcribed and coded for video production.

In the next couple of months we will be ordering, mounting, and perfecting each exhibit. Our goal is to open the Museum on August 24th!

Some highlights from this week:

  • Seeing an alligator by the levee

photo (1)


  • Having Jeffrey style our hair


  • Getting Museum work done at Flora Cafe


Stay tuned for more Living Museum updates!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, we’ve got 63,000 and counting!

For the last few months, staff member Stephanie “Dragon” Dragoon has been hard at work, contacting organizations from all over collecting photo permissions for the final museum exhibits. To date she’s received the go ahead to use 63 photographs relating to the Lower Ninth Ward, ranging in date from the early 1800s to the 21st century. Here’s a sneak peak of what’s to come:

Original Big NineThe Living Museum staff would like to extend our gratitude to Maitri Erwin for granting us permission to use this amazing photo for the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs exhibit. The Original Big Nine, founded in 1995 by members from the local Choctaw Mardi Gras Indian Tribe, has played a significant role in the Lower Ninth Ward’s colorful culture and strong community network.

steffa1This astounding image came from the State Library of Louisiana, which is graciously allowing us to use for the final exhibits! The picture, taken more than 70 years ago, features the Saint Claude Bridge (just a block away from the museum).

Thanks tSeals.1o the Xavier University Archives and Special Collections (New Orleans), we’re happy to include this photo of Mother Catherine Seals with her trombone, in the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum. Mother Catherine is a captivating Lower Ninth Ward historical figure who founded the Church of Innocent Blood in 1922. The final exhibit will feature the many services she provided and other fun facts about her rich legacy in the neighborhood. (Fun Fact Sneak Peak: Renowned author Zora Neal Hurston found Mother Catherine Seals to be such an incredible woman that she wrote a riveting short story profiling her unique charisma and devoted congregation!)

The_swampThis photo is an incredible depiction of the Tupelo and Cypress swamp,  thick with cypress tress and thriving life before public/private profit driven ventures led to the total devastation of the wetlands. A big thanks to the LSU Libraries Special Collections for granting us permission to use this photo.

Thanks Stephanie for all of your hard work collecting permissions! And a special thanks to all of the individuals and organizations who have kindly granted us permission to use your photographs.

Mythbusters Edition: The Lower Ninth Ward Isn’t the Lowest

How many times have we heard the argument that the Lower Ninth Ward is just “too far below sea-level” to rebuild?

Aerial view of the Industrial Canal Levee and Lower Ninth Ward, April 2006. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Carol M. Highsmith.

We’ve seen this myth spread from news media sources to the mouths of congressmen, turning up in countless conversations about the lack of progress in the Lower Ninth Ward (See The Seattle Times and House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s infamous comment).  Now it’s been seven years since the storm and we still see articles circulating that refer to the Lower Ninth Ward as one of the “lowest-lying” and “most flood-prone” area in the city. From day one, Lower Ninth Ward residents and activists have argued such claims are exaggerated and bogus, pointing to neighborhoods in Lakeview and New Orleans East (equally as vulnerable and “flood-prone”) that were given more resources and opportunities to rebuild (Landphair, 2007).

Scientists who have studied the topography of New Orleans agree that the Army Corps’ elevation warning for the Lower Ninth Ward was far from certain (Schwartz, 2006). Much of the Lower Ninth Ward is ”two to three feet higher” than areas of the Lakeview or New Orleans East neighborhoods, as well as the western side of Jefferson Parish, but after the storm, there wasn’t a discussion about people having to move from there. Advocates of the Lower Ninth argue that the “question of high ground versus low ground is also beside the point…’If you build a good flood-control system, the entire city is safe…If we don’t get a good flood-control system, the entire city is dangerous.”

After doing some research, I found that many articles refer to the Lower Ninth Ward being above sea level in some areas and relatively higher than New Orleans East or Lakeview, but I wasn’t able to locate a source with actual data to back up the argument. This is most likely due to the unofficial neighborhood lines, as well as rapidly changing elevation rates throughout New Orleans.

In order to find more accurate snapshot of New Orleans’ elevation levels, I decided to take a look at the USGS elevation index for the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East. Even within each sub-neighborhood, elevation levels vary quite a bit, but the overall data supports arguments that the Lower Ninth Ward is indeed much higher than the vast majority of Lakeview and New Orleans East.

According to the USGS elevation dataset, most landmarks in the Lower Ninth Ward range from 3 feet below to 3 feet above sea level (Lee Playground 0 Feet; Bonart Playground 3 Feet; Beulah Land Baptist Church -3 Feet; Amozion Baptist Church 3 Feet). Meanwhile, the New Orleans East neighborhood has areas in Pines Village and Read Blvd East as low as 10 feet below sea level, with its highest areas in West Lake Forest coming in right at sea level (Pines Village -10 Feet; Pradat Playground -7 Feet; Werner Playground -7 Feet; Wimbledon Playground -7 Feet; Baptist Church 0 Feet; Prince of Peace Lutheran Church -3 Feet; Louisiana Nature Center -10 Feet; Little Woods -3 Feet).

The idea that the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood is unworthy of being rebuilt because of its elevation has proven to be yet another myth in the devastating story of Katrina.

Allstate Returns to the Lower Ninth Ward

Allstate Insurance Company, the corporate sponsor for the 2013 Sugar Bowl, graced the Lower Ninth Ward with its presence once again on Wednesday, January 2nd.

According to a WDSU News report, fans and players from the Allstate Sugar Bowl “met up to clean the blighted and overgrown lots in the Lower Ninth Ward.”

When I was here two years ago, Allstate sent (upwards of 500) actual company employees along with fans and players to the Lower Ninth for a day of clean up and festivities in honor of the Sugar Bowl. I remember a marching band, a mobile stereo, a speaker’s podium, matching shirts and plenty of back patting.

While the Sugar Bowl volunteers undoubtedly had the Lower Ninth Ward in their hearts (as WDSU asserts), it’s hard to ignore the Allstate logos peppered throughout their gear and warm clothing.

As you may know, Allstate has had a contentious relationship with the Lower Ninth Ward, especially after the corporation fraudulently denied claims from Gulf Coast residents whose homes were destroyed in Katrina’s aftermath. Since Katrina, Allstate has been involved with numerous lawsuits, and in some cases fined millions of dollars, regarding arbitrary policies and illegal refusals during the claims process.

With a broader context in mind, is the Allstate Sugar Bowl “Day of Service” merely a way to repair a damaged image in the eyes of New Orleans (and Lower Ninth) residents? With the amount of money it takes to send all of these volunteers to the Lower Ninth each year, (not to mention the matching shirts, entertainment and media coverage), all for half a day of trash clean-up, it would appear as though the insurance company is more interested in a photo-op “quick fix” than a serious commitment to repairing the damage it has done in this community.

The Living Museum has a guest!

Late last night we welcomed a new member to the Living Museum team! Tali Petschek, an extraordinary artist and former Oxy student, will be joining us until the 10th to begin planning the Katrina sculpture she is contributing to the Museum. This is her first time back to New Orleans since coming down to gut houses with Professor Heldman’s Disaster Politics class in 2007.

Tali describes herself as an artist interested in ideas of loss, transition and growth. If it were possible to find the space between the shadow and the floor, this is where her work exists. She earned her BFA from California College of the Arts and continues to live and work in Oakland.  Most recently she worked with San Francisco artist Michael Swaine building a fire pit and sun dial for Pie Ranch in Pescadero CA, as well as submitted works to The Memory Library, an online gallery of work curated by artist Brandon Jones.


Today we took her on her first tour of the Living Museum to begin planning for the installation  which she hopes will give a visceral experience of being in a room covered in mold and in the process of rebuilding. The installation will be in the museum side Kitchen, and will lead into the Katrina room. Her intention is to honor the strength that comes with facing loss.

We’re very lucky to have her here with us!

P.S. (After getting permission from his mother) Jeffrey would like the world to see the beautiful puzzle he has finished. It’s been an all-around productive day at the Living Museum!


Lower Ninth Ward “Food Desert”

Finding healthy foods in the Lower Ninth Ward is more than just a challenge – it’s nearly impossible. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Lower Ninth Ward is considered a “Food Desert,” meaning it has a population of 500 or more people who don’t have access to a grocery store within a mile from their homes.


Photo from the USDA “Food Desert” Locator – the red dot is the Living Museum!

On October 20th, in association with National Food Day, The Lower Ninth Ward Food Access Coalition (a project of the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development) took a stand for food security by hosting a “Grocery Store For-A-Day” event in the parking lot of All Souls Church and Community Center. The festival included live music, cooking demonstrations as well as a “pop-up” grocery store, and brought attention to the Lower Ninth Ward’s food desert status while raising money for the development of a mobile grocery store. The program was an incredible success, bringing widespread attention to the issue of food security and hundreds of people to the makeshift grocery store to celebrate. Mitchell Landrieu, the Mayor of New Orleans, even proclaimed October 20th “Lower 9th Ward National Food Day,” affirming the CSED’s hard work.


Renee Peck (via the Times Picayune)


From the Grocery Store For-A-Day Facebook Page (









In 2009 the USDA found that 23.5 million people lacked access to a supermarket within a mile of their home and a nationwide analysis found 418 rural “food desert” counties where all residents lived more than 10 miles from a supermarket or supercenter, accounting for 20 percent of all rural counties. Another multistate study found that eight percent of African Americans live in a tract with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of white Americans.

In the Lower Ninth Ward, the nearest full-service grocery story is about 3.5 miles away in St. Bernard Parish. According to Lower Ninth Ward activist Jenga Mwendo, about 30 percent of residents lack personal transportation, making a trip to Walmart in the neighboring city of Chalmette that much harder.

“If we had a grocery store it would be a catalyst for other economic development in our neighborhood,” Mwendo told the Times Picayune. “Given we lost about 75 percent of our population after Katrina having something like that would help bring people back and bring in new residents.”

For more on the Lower Ninth Ward food security initiative, check out CSED’s Food Action Plan.