Friday, December 07, 2007

Public housing has certainly been on the brain and in the local news lately. Public art is what I've been turning over in my mind ever since I saw Oyster's blurb about The Pink Project.

My first thoughts centered right from my art school fool gut. It's just bad Christo being played out in the Ninth Ward:

What's so wrong with bringing in public artists such as Rachel Whiteread to make an eloquent statement about how messed up things have become in New Orleans? How black is white, right is wrong, inside is now outside for all to see?:

Or, perhaps internationally known artist and filmmaker Alfredo Jaar could have come up with something that really puts things into perspective.:

The representation of geography and the intricacies of global relations influence Jaar's every thought and action. In more recent projects, this obsession has led to critical investigations of cartography. A logo for America was an explicit demonstration of the significance of the images and language of geography - its representation and articulation. It also appropriated an amendable technology that utilized Jaar's interest in texts, words, film processes, and graphic design. Part of a six - year program sponsored by the Public Art Fund, Inc. in New York, Jaar was one of thirty artists invited to produce a 45 - second computer animation / intervention on the Spectacolor lightboard in the heart of Times Square.

For a month, his designed animation was featured every six minutes surrounded by private advertising and promotional campaigns for the city. In the insistent pulsations of commercial culture, periodically and unexpectedly there was an art arrhythmia. Always eager to return to the streets where his work first began, Jaar used this prominent site to deliver a clear message about identity and language. Using a selective taxonomy of communicative systems - maps, flags, and words - he reminded viewers of the propaganda that perpetuates power.

Any number of local artists working together could have come up with something like The Pink Project...or even something better. What makes this different is the celebrity status of its creator and the charitable cause behind it. It is, on its surface, a merging of one of those things we art fools always debated about whenever we saw projects such as Jaar's that called attention to human rights and injustice in this world: are we profiting from others' misery in presenting their misery in an art gallery as a photographic exhibition or a traditional art show? Don't we have a responsibility to give something back to these places in which the poverty is so crushing, the issues are so vital to maintaining the lifeblood of the community, and the abuses are reaching deceptive dimensions of forces of nature?

Well, yeah, we do. I applaud Brad Pitt for recognizing that. For wanting to make whatever gesture he can, and for lending a hand in whatever way he can. He is clearly not an average American - he has chosen to highlight his residency here because he likes it here, and he is in a position to use his celebrity and his wealth to do something.

BUT...Brad Pitt cannot singlehandedly rebuild New Orleans. It's just not possible for him to do so. This installation in the Lower Nine should not be giving people that impression. This is where the celebrity gets in the way of the symbolism inherent in the installation (check the nifty graphics under The Pink Project link on the Make It Right site), and in the cold, hard facts of recovery and rebirth in these parts. Reading the fine print on the Make It Right website shows that this lofty enterprise of getting people back in homes in New Orleans is still highly dependent on the kindness of strangers:

Financing Sources
MIR anticipates that various funding sources will be available to finance each candidate’s new home. Based on each household’s financial history and capacity, candidates will have access to the following funding sources:
Disaster Recovery Funds – federal Road Home funds, insurance proceeds, FEMA payments, etc
Other Subsidies, Grants or Forgivable loans– government or non-profit sponsored programs
Mortgage – conventional financing at favorable terms with a local financial institution
Cash Contribution –any personal resources that the resident intends to contribute to their home
MIR Loan Program – need-based financing to ensure that MIR homes are affordable

MIR Loan Program
MIR Loan Program will provide financing through a combination of the following products:
MIR Amortizing Loan – These loans are offered to MIR applicants that do not qualify for a sufficient mortgage from private banks with loan amounts adjusted to limit monthly payments based on household affordability.
MIR Deferred Payment Loan – These loans have no monthly payments, and are used in place of other loans when borrowers required house payments have reached their affordable limit. Loan is repayable at the sale or transfer of the MIR home.
MIR Forgivable Loan – A loan designed to restore home equity value lost after the hurricanes that has not been recovered through disaster recovery support such as Road Home Funds or Insurance payments.

MIR Loan Package
Participating households will receive an MIR Loan Package calculated using various financial assessment tools
according to the following basic formula:
Sales Price of MIR Home
Minus Disaster recovery funds
Minus Subsidies, grants, or forgivable loans from outside sources
Minus Homeowner cash contribution
Minus Mortgage from a private bank
= MIR Loan Package (Combining amortized, deferred and forgivable loans based on affordability)

Let's read that beginning sentence again, shall we?

MIR anticipates that various funding sources will be available to finance each candidate’s new home.

Excuse me while I laugh and cry at the same time at that statement. Life has not imitated art in this respect. People here are fighting like hell for what is increasingly becoming a pipe dream for many who want to return, or for those who want more than a formaldehyde-leeching FEMA trailer or a tent roof as a residence - the anticipation of those "various funding sources" that will mosey on over and give displaced residents a leg up. Even our newly minted Inspector General is struggling to figure out where the bottleneck is in the flow of city funds. And those pink houses are relying on that kind of dough to be made permanent?

Yeah, it might look all cheery in the Ninth Ward now, but it is ultimately up to us to make sure it is a more permanent situation. We still have to fight our own battles and work hard for our money. We have been, and continue to be, royally screwed in so many ways. Pepto Bismol pink art installations ain't gonna cure what ails us. Our elected leaders doing what we put them in office to do, and our constant reminders to them of what those doings should be are a much better start. We can't sit back on our rear ends and rely on the celebrities to do it all. Pretty faces - and pastel symbolism - can only go so far.


Anonymous said...

Darlin', you got it square on the head.

TravelingMermaid said...

Brad's Pink Project is just one piece of the puzzle of putting us back together. I don't think anyone expects his project to be the be all and end all. At least, those of us that were here pre and post K know that.

I think those who are struggling to come home will be happy with anyone doing anything to help. Rome wasn't built in a day.

asoom said...

I caught the larry king brad pitt special where he talked about this, unfortunately I missed like the first 10 minutes. You make a great point!