Monday, March 14, 2011

Every day that I go to work in the Quarter, and I don't have to rush too much after work is done, I park on Marigny Street near the foot of Elysian Fields Avenue, where the parking doesn't require feeding a meter or taking a ticket to be saved carefully before exiting a lot that will charge you a great deal more than you think the spot is worth.  I developed a soft spot for the building I parked the car in front of - it's a tad uncharacteristic for the upper Marigny, as though someone decided to plunk a smaller version of a New England factory mill at the edge of Picturesque Shotgun House Land.  Maybe it hadn't always been as much of a standout as it is now, but it's a pretty nice standout.

Another reason for my turning to slight mush when thinking of this place?  Fact of the matter is, these places are magnets for artists.  At least seven times out of ten in recent decades, great art has thrived where abandoned warehouses and factories have lain dormant.  Doesn't mean that everybody who goes through these doors is going to end up being the next Laurie Anderson, Lynda Benglis, or any other artist you could name, but the truth is, large spaces like those in these buildings give artists a chance to work large and cheap....even if they might occasionally have to remove a door, and, finally, a doorjamb to get some of their work out of those spaces.  That's just a peril of thinking big.

After I would return to my car from a day's work, the book collective in the place would have its door wide open and ready to receive visitors.  I especially loved the message I spied on the door once shortly after the Macondo oil disaster had entered into our consciousness:

Of course, the door to the place looks a little different now, as does the door to the place around the corner that used to accept bikes on their last gears and refurbish them for many more years of use:

Iron Rail now
Plan B Community Bike Project now
The signs say that the two enterprises are currently closed "at this location", implying they might reopen elsewhere at a later date...but that is in question.  I don't know what life at the ARK building was like after dark, but during the day, I encountered a pretty nice bunch of artists and anarchists coming in and out of those doors, sometimes with artwork in tow.  It reminded me of some of the great spaces that people I knew in my art school years had found.  In one memorable case, an entire second floor became a crash space with a lookout onto a dead courtyard, flanked at one end by a brick wall with a large story-and-a-half-sized window-shaped hole in it that had me wondering what kind of sweet installations could be made in that area.  I had no problems looking at this building and seeing what sort of inspiration might have come to its occupants.

Check the gargoyles up there when you get a chance.
So the ARK had a reprieve from closure for a few years.  If there's anything I know about a determined bunch of artists and freethinking folks, though, they will find a way to land on their feet.  And, in some way or another, this building will bear witness to another sort of use.  Big brick places like this were built to last, after all.

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