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Blake Pontchartrain: fire station banners in New Orleans 

A citywide arts project in the ‘90s placed artworks on nine fire stations

click to enlarge The banner on this downtown fire house was designed by local artist and art critic Doug MacCash and was installed in 1991.

Photo by Kandace Power Graves

The banner on this downtown fire house was designed by local artist and art critic Doug MacCash and was installed in 1991.

Hey Blake,

Do you have any information about the art on the exterior of the fire station on Girod Street in the Warehouse District?

David

Dear David,

  That outdoor art is part of a 1990s-era project by the Arts Council of New Orleans to bring works of art to nine of the city's fire stations, recognizing their importance to local neighborhoods. The organization sponsored a juried competition to find an artist to design and create large outdoor banners.

  The winner was Doug MacCash. An artist long before he was art critic for The Times-Picayune, MacCash designed banners for the nine fire stations, each depicting a group of stylized firefighters battling a blaze. The banner on the Girod Street fire station was installed in 1991.

  MacCash worked with local sailmaker Charles Erickson to stitch together the designs on sailcloth, the canvas-like material you'd see on a sailboat. "The specifications called for the materials to last 10 years," MacCash told Gambit, "so we designed three identical sets of banners for each fire house, to be rotated every few years to keep things fresh."

  MacCash's pride in the project is evident, even 25 years later. "The great thing about public art is that by its very nature, people actually see it," he says. "Some artists may give everything to a project, only to have just a handful of people enjoy it. That's why public art like this is so special."

  Since this was a pre-Katrina project, some of the banners have fared better than others. The ones on fire stations in New Orleans East and the 9th Ward are lost, though others in Algiers and on the fire station near the Municipal Auditorium are still on display.

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