Prospect.1 New Orleans, which called itself the premiere biennial of international and contemporary art in the US, was a giant success when it launched two years ago. Between November 2008 and January 2009, it featured an international line-up of 81 artists who exhibited in small venues and open spaces around the city — including vacant lots and abandoned homes in the Lower Ninth Ward.
The event got city-dwellers to spend Saturday afternoons exploring unfamiliar neighborhoods and experiencing art in pretty non-traditional places — like an abandoned school and the tops of random buildings. And perhaps even more important for the city, organizers say it brought in a ton of visitors (42,000) and money ($23 million) — key ingredients to getting The Big Easy back on its feet.
This was supposed to be the year for Prospect.2. But because of a drop in arts funding nation-wide and the crippled economy, founder Dan Cameron announced in the February he’d need an extra year to find the $4.5 million needed for the exhibition.
But we know New Orleans is a town full of resilient folks. Until the big show is back on track, a mini-biennial has popped up in its place: Prospect.1.5 starts tomorrow.
Prospect.1.5 will be smaller and shorter then its predecessor, but it will still pack a mighty punch. Fifteen weeks of exhibits, symposiums, and block parties will promote the work of contemporary artists born and currently living in New Orleans.
“Fresh off the Turnip Truck” — an exhibit of eight young, recent arrivals to New Orleans — kicks things off. The gallery is actually an 18th Century Creole townhouse, one of the last surviving buildings from the fire of 1788, that nearly destroyed the French Quarter. Each artist will be given an entire room in which to display their work. Accomplished painter and installation artist Jessica Bizer will combine conflicting materials and textures into her signature playful and absurd, brightly-colored creations: “My goal is for these scenes to represent personal fantasy worlds, where a variety of visual elements simultaneously play and conflict, forming enthusiastically divergent narratives,” she says in her artist’s statement.
According to Cameron, Prospect.1.5 will cost just $20,000 (that’s .4% of Prospect.2’s projected budget) raised through contributions from foundations (including The Annenburg Foundation, which supported Prospect.1) and hundreds of individual donors. Sure, a smaller festival will mean smaller returns. But just having a mini-biennial will preserve some momentum for the New Orleans arts scene. And that’s of tremendous value as well.
And, fingers crossed, Prospect.2 will arrive in late 2011.