On Sunday, Nov. 6, Trouser House executive director Emily Morrison announced on its website and in an email to the art space's supporters that it would be closing at the end of the month.
Trouser House (4105 St. Claude Ave.) opened in 2009 as a gallery and art space with an urban farm, and it hosts a final show for Salon des Refuses, which ironically, as Morrison points out, is named after the rejected pieces of Parisian salons.
The show is 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, and the remaining gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday, through November. It features 70 local, national and international artists and "celebrates the birth of avant-garde."
Trouser House, among other Bywater and Marigny spaces, received an email from Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Office of Cultural Economy following the permitting problems at Bacchanal, the wine store that also served food and hosted live music. The email prompted gallery owners to rush City Hall to apply for appropriate permits, and "some got them," Morrison says. But prior to that, in August, Morrison sent an email to city officials, inviting them to a salon opening — they replied, asking to meet. "Halloween was the nail in the coffin," Morrison says. The city's code enforcement said the building, built in 1840, needs to be brought up to code for 2011: fire safety measures and accessibility issues, like wheelchair-accessible ramps, would need to be added. Morrison was given a checklist: level the building, widen doorways 3-4 inches, install bathrooms and ramps, add exits through a neighbor's parking lot, widen alleyways, install a gateway — a complete rehaul, requiring an architect to perform a feasibility study, a licensed contractor to make the changes, and several thousand dollars. "'Then maybe we'll give you a permit,'" Morrison says, noting that the city doesn't have any permits resembling what the space offers. "How can something built 100 years ago get compliant up to this year?"
Trouser House opened "with absolutely no money, and little resources in term of business savvy," Morrison says. Its mission statement defines the space as "a model of sustainability defined by community involvement and public education. As a catalyst for social change, Trouser House advocates food activism and contemporary art as vehicles for improving public health and personal well-being." Exhibits were planned through May 2012 but now will have to find new exhibition spaces. The city, Morrison says, isn't kicking out Trouser House tenants or closing its doors, but it can't run as is without proper permits. City officials were "receptive," Morrison says, and "to an extent encouraging" — people in Landrieu's administration are working for the arts, and are willing to help so long as Trouser House moves, but she notes its a double-edged sword: "They're there to help, but to do it we have to relocate, and that's a lot of work."
Read Morrison's full letter after the jump.
With the two-year anniversary of Trouser House fast approaching, I find myself in a state of nostalgia. My thoughts skip from memories of baby chicks to time spent with WWOOFers. At night, I think about numerous (sometimes insane) exhibition installations and am often struck by my most vivid flashback: of second grade students sitting in Kate Hanrahan's Exoskeletons exhibit. They were particularly smitten with her large-scale drawing of a Mardi Gras princess. Their candid insight has stuck with me since then…and I am confident that the most intuitive response to contemporary art comes from children.
I have procrastinated writing this letter because this farewell is, I will admit, bittersweet. As many of you know, I have been making regular trips to City Hall since August of this year to try to get an occupational license for the organization. After extensive discussion with the City of New Orleans, lawyers, architects, and even the Trouser House cats, I realize that we can no longer operate at our current location.
It is a unique situation. Although the building is zoned commercial, it has never been used as a commercial space and must be brought up to code for 2011. The building was constructed in 1890 and has not undergone extensive renovation. As you can imagine, the space does not fulfill contemporary requirements for handicap accessibility and safety for high occupancy crowds. To further complicate things, the City of New Orleans does not even offer the “type of use” (a zoning term) that Trouser House operates under.
On Halloween day, I traveled to the Mayor’s Office to personally meet with his staff and discuss options surrounding this problem. In this meeting, I learned that while we can not circumvent our current code issues, the City of New Orleans has agreed to scour the law books to find an appropriate use, and/or expedite an appeal for the Trouser House model. To garner this use, we must find a new building that meets the standards for safety and accessibility. Currently, we are not in a position to purchase or rent/renovate a new building. In light of this change, for now, Trouser House is going mobile.
So on the two-year anniversary of the space, I am writing to say thank you to the community that has made this project possible. The Trouser House crew has included many folks—from artists and gardeners to out of townies and hooligans—and I have learned an incredible amount from this amazing group of people. We have tested, failed, and succeeded at many models and I look forward to a future that will continue this spirit of exploration and experimentation.
With all of that said, it is with great pleasure that I invite you to attend the final second Saturday of Trouser House in it’s current location. I hope you will join me this Saturday, November 12 from 6-10pm to view the Salon des Refuses (open until November 30) and raise a glass to Trouser House. Ironically, the Salon will be the last exhibit at Trouser House. If you cannot make it on Saturday evening, I hope you will stop by the gallery during our regular Salon hours (Fri-Sun, 12-5pm) until November 30. Please continue to visit the Trouser House website for updates; I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All my best,