Blights Out is a collective of citizens, artists, activists, and architects imagining a new model for development that generates dialogue, art, and action to challenge blight, displacement, and gentrification.
We recognize that “development” is a murky and mysterious process that operates above the heads and outside the purview of most local citizens. Our mission is to use visual art, performance, research, and skill-share to demystify and democratize development and to advocate for permanently affordable housing. Together, we are building a new, crowd-sourced model for development that shares the tools for locals to build the destinies of their own neighborhoods.
Our central goal is to purchase a blighted property in New Orleans' historic 6th Ward. We will restore it together—creating opportunities for skill-share—and establish it as functional social sculpture: a multipurpose space featuring permanently affordable housing and a community cultural resource center that will provide a home base for creative action on issues of blight, disinvestment, and permanent housing affordability.
Our method—an experiential learning process dubbed “performing architecture”—bridges the false divide between civics and culture, asking: “what are the sensibilities of place; where is the soul of a home?”, “what is ownership; where are the commons?”, “what is community; what inspires people to unite in action?”, and “how do we meet the needs of a neighborhood outside of a profit-driven framework?”
Controls and Counter Reactions
An exhibition curated by Blights Out Co-Founding Artist Carl Joe Williams
Photography by AnnieLaurie Erickson
Blights Out in collaboration with Junebug Productions, Frederick "Hollywood" Delahoussaye, and Kesha McKey
An Invitation is a Call to Action, or, A Composite Prose Portrait of What Folks from Blights Out are Feeling, Thinking, & Talking About on the 10th Anniversary of Katrina
August 21, 2015
On August 15, 2015, members of Blights Out--natives and newcomers--were asked to share one word to describe how they were feeling as the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approached. Dueling, conflicting, entwined emotions about the future were exposed: fear and anxiety tempered with optimism and hope. These single words sparked a profound conversation about what it means to belong to and become part of a place and a community. Simply, to enter a place is a free choice; to become a part of a community requires an invitation. The following is an invitation from Blights Out to those who may be struggling to understand their place in this contested city:
The air is charged this time of year. Indignities of displacement and replacement hang as heavy as the pregnant August Sky. We move stiffly, anxiously, defenders of (or monuments to?) an indigenous culture of New Orleans. Yet this time of year, we native New Orleanians must remind ourselves that we are not the first natives of this land to be colonized. We are living witnesses to the cyclical nature of history. The Law of Sankofa tells us that we must look back in order to move forward. So. let us remember:
The first Louisianans to be colonized were the Houma. The Atakapa, Avoyel, Bayogoula, Bilouxi, Chatot, Chawasha, Chitimacha, Choctaw, Koasati, Koroa, Mugulasha, Muskogee, Natchez, Natchitoches, Olelousa, Opelousa, Pascagoula, Quapaw, Quinipissa, Souchitioni, Taensa, Tangipahoa, Tawasa, and the Washa.
In the face of genocide, these peoples and others across America understood that difference and distance between peoples are not insurmountable divides. We have heard the tales: indigenous communities opened their arms to Marooned Africans who escaped from bondage and sought safe haven. They adopted them into their homes. But History Textbooks conveniently omit the other half of the story. Many tribes also welcomed defecting Colonists who refused to participate in the displacement and genocide of an entire people on behalf of European oligarchs and debt collectors. To those who were willing to listen—those who were ready to recognize and renounce their complicity with a culture of oppression—they offered home, family, and community.
This tri-racial culture of refusal was America’s first intentional community.
Katrina sent us wheeling, spinning, out of control, on a downward, outward spiral. Off kilter, left asunder, left bereft, left empty, left blighted, homeless, hopeless, stranded, alone.
But Katrina alone is not to blame for our alienation.
Katrina, and the changes that unfolded thereafter, were just fireworks at the climax of a long con: Slavery. Colonialism. Segregation. Desegregation. Disinvestment and Urban Renewal. The Claiborne Overpass. The displacement of people from their homelands; the elimination of public transportation; the closing and privatization of neighborhood schools; the indefinite isolation of individuals within prison cells; in some neighborhoods—working class neighborhoods of color, that is—one out of three businesses and one out of four homes linger vacant, ghostly...
We New Orleanians have been called “resilient”. Enough with the word. We stand on a cultural foundation carved out of a bedrock of resistance and refusal. The dance steps of the Revolution have been worked into our muscle memory. Our limbs move unconsciously in the automatic writing of buried history. Do not be mistaken: we will not be defeated so easily.
But we are also willing to welcome newcomers, to share, and to teach, provided that you are capable of truly listening. And we are willing to learn from, to listen to, and to embrace others as well. You have made a choice to move to this new place. But the process of becoming a part of this place is slow, intentional, and collaborative. It requires an invitation. The indigenous peoples of Louisiana invited their potential colonizers to disengage with systems of privilege that reinforced the oppression of others. An invitation is a call to action. This is an invitation.
Science has shown that none of the individual sub-atomic components within our own bodies ever actually touch. They are encased within their own energy fields, which bump up and rub against each other, creating friction. This kinetic energy bridges an otherwise infinite divide, serving as the glue that holds us together, offering the possibility of harmonic collaboration of parts within a whole. An assembly of individuals within a collective, acting intentionally as one. The social and civic body, as with the human body, is stronger as a sum of its respective parts.
The energy that surrounds people, places, and experiences is sub-cellular, social, spiritual, commiserative, communicative. We may never truly merge into one being, but sparks could really fly if we attempt to touch.
Blights Out invites newcomers to our city to sit with us. And to listen. And to learn. And to defect. And, when you’re ready, to join us in action. There has been some friction between us. But that’s okay. Friction is good. It starts fires.
- Blights Out
To purchase and restore a blighted property in New Orleans' Lower Mid-City/ Tremé neighborhood, transforming it into functional “social sculpture”: a multipurpose community cultural resource center and socio- economic asset, which will serve at the “mothership” hub of Blights Out’s creative output.
To align New Orleans’ traditional modes of cultural organizing with today’s most pressing concerns. We believe that the Social Aid and Pleasure Club is a strong model that can be employed in new terrain. As such, we are using art to facilitate civic engagement with blight, disinvestment, and housing through programming that draws on New Orleans’ traditions of performance, storytelling, and community organizing.
To partner with a local Community Land Trust (CLT) to organize educational materials and programming on alternative development models, including the CLT.
To record, visualize, and amplify the history of the neighborhood. Blights Out produces public art works inspired by neighborhood stories, architecture, and history, culled from the multi-disciplinary research and critical interactive strategies that we employ.
To document our process and present it as a replicable model for action through the publication of a toolkit that will consolidate scattered resources on housing, lending, and blight remediation in New Orleans, thus serving an unmet need identified at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center 2015 Annual Fit for King Conference.
“Economic models and development schemes have been perfected by maximizing profit at the expense of people.” “the American Dream is an individual vision incompatible with collective will.” “Artists are always catalysts for gentrification.” We intend to deconstruct these “truisms” and prove them false though the development of an actionable model for community-powered creative development.
Blights Out is supported by the work of our partners and funders:
Organizational Partners: Press Street/Antenna Gallery, National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), Junebug Productions, HousingNOLA, Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), Ole & Nu Style Fellas Social Aid and Pleasure Club, Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative (JPNSI), RAO Real Estate Advisory, Justice and Beyond Coalition, Crescent City Community Land Trust (CCCLT), Newcomb Art Museum at Tulane University, May Gallery & Residency, NEXT City, New Orleans Master Crafts Guild, Hidden History Tours, and Loyola Law School Human Rights Clinic.
Your contributions, involvement, opinions, questions, blessings, constructive criticisms, and doubts are welcome. Please share yourself and your thoughts with us: