Blight. n. / blahyt /: A term originally used to describe diseased and browning plants, appropriated in the early 20th century by the State to describe dwellings occupied by poor, generally non-white, people. By focusing on cosmetic 'blight' when describing various states of individual or community-wide disinvestment, the State can deflect attention from structural economic inequity and racism.
(from The Living Glossary: 'Blight')
Blights Out is a collective of artists, activists, and architects who seek to demystify and democratize the system of housing development and expose the policies that lead to gentrification. We have located the lynchpin of gentrification in laws governing debt and property, racialized boundaries, and wealth stratification. Our mission is to generate dialogue, art, and action that challenge inequitable development and drive land use policy in New Orleans.
The Living Glossary project: "Auction"
Reading and Rally
May 2, 6-8pm
THE LIVING GLOSSARY
DESIGN AS PROTEST
BLIGHTS OUT FOR PRESIDENT
BLIGHTS OUT FOR PRESIDENT is a creative campaign that calls for an alternative to top-down electoral politics that center talking heads and vague political jargon over the voices and concerns of everyday people. The Blights Out for President election signage campaign hijacks the aesthetics of election propaganda to create a crowd-sourced campaign of yard signs, billboards, and bumper stickers calling for housing justice.
These yard signs are the culmination of a several months-long process that united a diverse group of New Orleans residents through forums, meetings, and story circles to identify and discuss contemporary roadblocks to visioning and designing the future that we want for our neighborhoods. Designs were crafted by participants in collaboration with Young Creative Agency, a local organization that trains and hires high school students in graphic design.
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 Mid-City New Orleans outside of the predatory free market. Once we have acquired an, ideally, two-story commercially-zoned property, we will anchor the land to a local community land trust, transform the first story into a multipurpose community cultural resource center and socio- economic asset, which will serve at the “mothership” hub of Blights Out’s creative output and use the second story for permanently affordable rental apartments.
To navigate and untangle the networks of people involved and implicated in maintaining the housing landscape; to forge cross-sector collaborations with community organizers, architects, prospective home buyers, real estate wholesalers, urban planners, policy advocates, politicians, and the residents who offer their own invaluable lived expertise.
To unite artists and policy advocates in the interest of making policy and its after effects visible through performance, painting, sculpture, and conceptual practices.
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.
“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: