07 April 2009

History of NoLA Rising / L'Histoire d'NoLA Rising


NoLA Rising began after Hurricane Katrina as a public art initiative to improve the day to day lives of the people living in New Orleans. Believing that “Art Can Heal the Wounded Soul”, Michael “Rex” Dingler spread the message that while we, as New Orleanians, were down, we certainly weren’t out. Through custom posters, random quotes and hand painted street signs, NoLA Rising became a cultural movement for social justice proving the power of a positive message.

Rex began his mission with the simple idea that publicly displayed art could positively impact the emotional needs of New Orleanians who returned to face great odds after the storm. Messages of hope, faith and culture were vital to the mental health of those who returned to rebuild their homes and restore their lives. With this approach in mind, Rex personally created over 3,000 individually drawn and hand-painted signs and displayed them across New Orleans on telephone poles. In addition, Rex created vibrant street signs for intersections when the city could no longer afford to do so.

As the project became more prominent in recognition, people joined Rex to also paint and publicly display their work. Through several group art events (paint parties) held across New Orleans, thousands of pieces of artwork were created. While many of the pieces ended up on the streets, many of the pieces were also donated to worthy causes helping people to finally move back into their restored homes.

NoLA Rising then began to look at ways it could improve the daily function of arts in a community. To raise awareness for public art, a joint event was held in an “It’s Yours, Take It” show at CafĂ© Brasil in the summer of 2008 where artwork was given away to people passing by. The show displayed pieces made at a NoLA Rising Paint Party and pieces received from an international list of artists for the explicit purpose of giving away free art. Another free exchange was held in a public space to raise money to donate supplies to a local art teacher in one of the area public schools.

Later in 2008, NoLA Rising held two more paint parties to gather artwork for a Christmas event designed to be an art exchange for toys that were then donated to the United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. Through this event, NoLA Rising was able to donate just under a hundred toys to Toys for Tots and another neighborhood program of similar quality.

NoLA Rising has also been involved in book drives and creating artistic spaces in local bookstores, fighting for individual property rights of artistic owners, and events and festivals ranging from VooDoo Fest to Propsect.Every1. The most notable event was the NoLA Rising Festival at IRT in the West Village of New York.

The NoLA Rising Festival was hosted by SlightlyAskew to bring the message to New York and raise money for various New Orleans charities and groups. Rex collaborated with the Endless Love Crew and Robots Will Kill to have a painted collaborative mural in the space that also served for theater purposes, jazz shows, spoken word, film screenings and interactive media events. The success of the show was guaranteed by CultureBot calling NoLA Rising “the largest grassroots movement in the contemporary art scene in the American South.”

At the beginning of 2009, NoLA Rising entered a new phase of existence looking to our city walls as free and sanctioned public art spaces to continue the message that New Orleans is the cultural center of the South. In our very own back yard is the most important wall in modern American history…the Lower Ninth Ward Levee Wall. To remember our collective struggle as a city, to re-assert our position as a city of the arts, and to honor those who we lost in the storm, NoLA Rising has begun the United Artist Front, New Orleans Mural Arts Program.

In the first major mural effort, NoLA Rising sought and received support from the New Orleans Levee Board to turn the rebuilt Lower Ninth Ward Levee Wall into a continuous 3900 foot long mural (totaling approximately 46,800 square feet of art space), with 65 local artists each painting 720 square feet of their tribute. As a newly formed Louisiana Non-Profit, we are forging ahead with local leaders to insure the project’s existence and success and plan to announce the mural in the second quarter of 2009.

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