The Big .1
It was years in the making and more awesome in scale than anything ever attempted in the local art community. As it continues through Jan. 18, Prospect.1 — hailed as America's first modern international contemporary art biennial, with close to 80 artists exhibiting in more than two dozen official locations — could, depending on its future permutations, end up New Orleans' leading cultural story on a biannual basis. The immediate benefits of the 11-week event are already being felt: It provides another reason to visit a "Top Ten Christmas Town" during the holiday season (thank you, HGTV); it functions as an artistic road map for out-of-towners; it depicts the Lower Ninth Ward in a more hopeful light; and, not least, it "keeps the New Orleans brand out there" in a more helpful fashion than multiple homicides (thank you, Mayor Nincompoop).
But there is a deeper meaning to all those oversized arks, melodious paddleboats and emergency response studios. Prospect.1 is the most prominent representation of the intersection between artistic expression, community organizing and native culture in the Crescent City — what Gambit Weekly art writer D. Eric Bookhardt aptly called "an intermingling of magic and social work." Less than 40 months removed from the darkest chapter in New Orleans' modern history, we're fortunate to have it.
Race For the Curator
So far, Dan Cameron's citywide art fair has lived up to critics' and aficionados' lofty expectations, but it remains to be seen how much of it the general public has actually seen. Scattered sites and gratis admission have made the calculation of exact attendance tallies something of an inexact science, and the early projections of 100,000 — reaffirmed by Cameron at the end of November — no longer seem attainable. At the biennial's five-week midway point, an estimated 20,000 people had viewed the exhibitions.
In the Artists' Studio
It's fitting that the Studio at Colton — a multidisciplinary art center that opened with Prospect.1 in November — sits at the nexus of the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth wards. Donated by the Recovery School District (RSD) to the Creative Alliance of New Orleans (CANO) for the 2008-09 school year, the once-vacant school now houses a living creativity lab for the learning, teaching and practicing of fine art, with more than 100 artists working on site in all media. Despite RSD's plans to reopen Colton School for 2009-10, CANO hopes to expand its programming beyond the May closing date.
Bow Wow Wow
One creates exaggerated cherubs; the other, expressionless canines. Together, Colombian neo-figurative artist Fernando Botero and Louisianan (blue) dog-father George Rodrigue were responsible for New Orleans' two highest-profile museum exhibitions in 2008. Running back-to-back from March through September, Rodrigue's blue hounds and Botero's corpulant humans kept the turnstiles at the New Orleans Museum of Art spinning, with more than 52,000 visitors viewing the Rodrigue display, a new NOMA record for a living artist.
The city's premier theater welcomed a new artistic director and a new company into its fold in 2008, all without missing a pregnant pause. Aimée Hayes, a New Orleans native chosen by the Southern Rep board from a national pool of nearly 50, took over the theater's helm in March, replacing Ryan Rilette, who moved to California. Then, in August, stage vets Kelly Fouchi, Gary Rucker, Lucas Harms and Megan Harms founded the FourFront Theatre as a part of the City Series outreach program. The quartet debuted with Gutenberg! The Musical!, an audacious musical comedy about a couple of ambitious playwrights attempting to mount, appropriately enough, an audacious musical comedy. The company's next production, Altar Boyz, is slated for April.
DramaRama turned 15 in April, celebrating with more than 50 area groups performing on seven CAC stages (highlighted by multimedia artist and adopted Wright brother Jeff Becker's fantastical Flight). For the festival's Sweet 16 in 2009, look for a move to less-crowded June, where it should have the sleepy summer month all to itself. Around town, Le Chat Noir closed another smashing calendar with Scrooge in Rouge!, its Ricky Graham-led "British Music Hall Christmas Carol"; Le Petit Theatre's eclectic schedule ranged from Broadway smashes (Rent) to Pulitzer Prize winners (Crimes of the Heart); and the Anthony Bean Community Theater paid homage to the great August Wilson by staging his final work, Radio Golf, in September. And speaking of final: in December, Running With Scissors staged its final production of the holiday perennial Grenadine McGunkle's Double-Wide Christmas.
The Odd Couple
Dennis Monn and Kristen Evans looked around at New Orleans' parade of burlesque shows, al fresco productions and alternative stages, and they decided: "Not fringe enough." And thus, in November, the Fringe Festival — Edinburgh, Scotland's weird gift to the world — came to the fringiest city in America. Monn (a Marigny Theatre vet) and Evans (co-founder of the Backyard Ballroom) know a thing or two about outsider theater, and their inaugural event exceeded even their own expectations: 40 companies staging more than 120 productions at 14 venues throughout the city. How stiff was the first-year competition? "My application got rejected," Monn says. Hey, there's always next year.