27 July 2008

American Outside Art Interview - New Orleans

Recently, Rex of NoLA Rising sat down with the crew of American Outside Art at the Nighthawk diner in the Marigny. The following is that interview as posted on their site:

NOLA Rising: Community Improvement Projects

We were introduced to Dingler by our gracious host, Jeffrey Holmes of L’ Art Noir. Rex is greatly invested in community art movements, in particular following the Katrina storm. We interviewed and photographed him in the heaven/hell of the Nighthawk diner/bar deep within the Bywater neighborhood. We had a discussion concerning everything from preferred condiments (ketchup, dijon mustard) to street art and grassroot community services, from the egomania of artists to the futility of campaigns to illiminate personal expression.

Dingler is less an aesthetic artist than a community organizer and courtroom warrior. He’s organized paint parties devoted to filling homes with artwork, replaced street signs blown asunder by rising waters, and fought court battles against a rabid ex-event planner devoted to covering any and all street art in New Orleans.

Rex Dingler and Craig take a snuggle break in the Nighthawk.

AOA: Ok, to begin with, what is NOLA rising?

D: NOLA rising started out as a post-Katrina art campaign designed to make people feel better about living in the city. We did street signs so that people could figure out where the hell they were going, and then we started making signs; well, I started making signs, and then other people started helping me, making signs that were happy (a simple smile or flower), that would just make people think about the culture of the city and what’s important to them…the little parts of culture that make New Orleans a such a cool place to live.
You know, that PTSD is still a pretty serious thing here, I was going nuts…

AOA: Do you want to talk about your Katrina experience?

D: NO.

AOA: Ok, fair enough. So, you began putting up these street signs, and that was helpful, actually, a literal community service. You obviously have a strong interest in investing in your community. Could you talk a little about how that began?
D: Well, what got me interested was that there weren’t street signs{after the storm}, and that no one knew where to go, or how to get there. Common Ground was doing them, but I noticed that there were some areas that they were missing.

AOA: What is Common Ground?

D: Common Ground is one of many volunteer organizations that came in after the storm, working on a rotating basis, working, gutting houses, and helping with the community.

AOA: So are you continuing to do the signs, how has NOLA Rising progressed since immediately post-Katrina?

D: During that time we put up about 3,000 signs total, and now it has morphed into community shows and events like the paint parties where we have people come in and paint then we donate the artwork. We give the paintings to nonprofits such as the St. Bernard firefighters, who are just now getting into their homes, and still don’t even have furniture. We also do fund-raisers where we sell the artwork to buy art supplies for the New Orleans school system.

Right now, we are really pushing a community mural project as the next step. We’d like to cover alot of the spaces that are decrepit and depressing reminders of New Orleans difficulties with dynamic murals to mobilize the community in general.

AOA: So, would you like to mention some the people and organizations that you are connected with?

D: Well, it depends on who I may come across. The Institute for Women and Ethic Studies, Rebuilding Together Louisana; a part of the Preservation Resource Center, the St. Bernard Firefighters. It’s been great to work on helping people with their quality of life issues (and having art definately improves quality of life), at a time when they are struggling to furnish their houses, much less worry about having a piece of artwork in their home. One of my philosophies is that a house is not a home without artwork.
They are able to come and pick out a piece that speaks to them, and it becomes a type of art-therapy.

AOA: So you are definately looking for people to come down and help with the efforts?

D: We’re always down for people to come help in any way they can, what really needs to happen is some serious funding. So I’m looking into that. Anyone who wants to come and participate or has any information regarding funding this project would be doing a great service.

We foresee beginning an art-therapy clinic because we see that art therapy isn’t really used here and would be helpful, in particular, for children.

AOA: And you’re looking into becoming a non-profit yourself?

D: Yes.

AOA: Can you talk a little about some of the obstacles that have arisen from that process?

D: Well, One of the biggest obstacles has been the association of what I am doing with street art. And although my statement has always been not to exclude any type of artist due to medium, but this is where I’ve come into alot of problems with the “Grey Ghost”.

AOA: I’ve been hearing alot about this “Grey Ghost” guy, can you tell me something concrete about him?

D: He’s a 50-something year old man who believes he was sent here by God to rid New Orleans of grafitti. He paints over every street mark with grey paint.

AOA: How did he get that name?

D: I believe he gave himself that name, he takes great pride in it, he says he’s a “super-hero”. His real name is Fred Radtke, and he’s a retired event planner. He actually would dress in costume when he first began buffing…a homemade super-hero costume. It would actually be so cool, if he weren’t devastating all the individual marks in New Orleans.

AOA: So this has come to court-drama between you and him personally, hasn’t it?

D: Yes, I was levied orginally with thousands of dollars in fines, but after the jury heard my case, they ventured to ask who was the real criminal and reduced it to a couple hundred (ha, ha).

AOA: So the New Orleans goverment hasn’t been particularly friendly to your cause.

D: No, in fact, the “Grey Ghost” lives on grant money from the goverment and corporations at this time. Imagine that.

AOA: So are there any legal walls in town where traveling artists can paint?

D: There were, but he’ll buff them.

AOA: Damn.

D: But, there’s lots of other ways to influence and improve a community that can never be negated by some ridculous rabid campaign. Artists are required to provide the impetus for positive change in an area. It takes creative thinking to initate and continue any project.

1 comment:

  1. stop the grey ghost!

    love to new orleans from california...