by David S. Jackson
The fifth edition of Prospect New Orleans, a citywide art exhibition, runs from October to Jan. 23, 2021, in locations throughout the city. “Prospect.5” will feature internationally acclaimed artists, citywide exhibits but also a sense of consciousness as this year’s theme “Yesterday we said tomorrow” will channel the complicated past of America as told through the eyes of culturally diverse artists.
“It’s been hundreds of years that only straight, White male voices have only been heard,” says Prospect New Orleans Executive Director Nick Stillman. “Prospect One has been an exhibition to elevate Black voices. We were doing that year before there was a movement. This is something that I feel very proud about. We’re in New Orleans, in a majority Black city. We would be foolish to ignore that. There are Black artists that have a lot to say and would like to be heard. This cross-cultural connection shows there’s a lot of meat on that bone. When you talk about the Deep South and Caribbean, you largely speak about people of color and their influences.”
Stillman says Prospect One was originally conceptualized as a way to bring tourists to the city in a large-scale citywide event that would mirror large festivals while focusing on world-renown visual artists. Planting a deeper message has always been a priority, he says.
“This is our fifth iteration. Every single one has a different feeling and a different driver,” says Stillman. “It took a real determination to make this happen. Our city has suffered over the last couple of years, having to deal with COVID, the variant, and even the toll that the hurricane took on our city. Anyone can attest that our cultural rhythms are very important to this city. With the cancellation of Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest and VooDoo Fest, this is a gift we want to give to New Orleans. We want to bring joy to the city. We are united behind that drive. New Orleans is a city that is fueled by joy”
Prospect.5 features 51 artists in this show with Naima Keith and Diana Nawi as creative directors. The artists range from international icons Felipe Baeza from Guanajuato, Mexico and the late Laura Aguilar to a cacophony of New Orleans-born artists that are also among the best in the world.
The exhibits feature small prints in galleries, living performance art, and even mega-scaled exhibitions that extend into the skyline.
“Some of these pieces are colossal,” says Stillman. “EJ Hill’s piece in New Orleans East is a monument and a memorial to the Jazz Fest Ferris wheel. He will be making his own version of a Ferris wheel that will use one of the Jazzland gondolas. It will be on a monumental scale.”
Prospect.5 is also partnering with an organization called “A Black Creative’s Guide” that will offer free tours of the exhibition for New Orleanians of color. Stillman says this will help guide people through the world of contemporary art that can seem foreign to them.
One of the featured artists is Ron Bechet, a former longtime chairman of the art department and a current professor at Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans. He earned a BA from the University of New Orleans and an MFA from Yale School of Art. Bechet’s preferred medium is large-scale painting and drawing, often on a support of shaped plywood, which lends his works a sculptural quality. His paintings primarily feature Southern Louisiana inspired landscapes, and while illusions of the natural world are the focus of his imagery, they often serve as metaphors for the human condition.
“I’m a born in New Orleans, Charity Hospital kind of person,” says Bechet whose grandfather is early jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet. “We have grown up with these flourishes of music and that will come out in my work.”
Bechet, who will be exhibiting at the Newcomb Museum on Tulane’s campus, creates large-scale, black and white charcoal drawings. He is excited to be a part of this art showcase but also realizes there is a deeper meaning to many of the exhibits.
“Showing in this project with Prospect is a great experience and the idea of bringing down all of these internationally acclaimed artists and bringing people here to see the city is a very spiritual and very Africanist,” says Bechet. “New Orleans is what America thinks it is. It is deep in history, truly multi-cultural and it should be recognized as the quintessential America city.”
A variety of local historical, artistic, and cultural institutions will host P.5 openings and exhibitions.
These venues include Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Amistad Research Center, Crescent Park, the Contemporary Arts Center, and New Orleans African American Museum, which will also serve as the Hancock Whitney Welcome Center––the main hub of visitor experience for the triennial.
Stillman says the best way to experience the exhibit is to start at the Welcome Center at the New Orleans African-American Museum. There, he says visitors can pick up a map and consult with the art directors.
“The special thing about Prospect is that you can physically see who is attending. I think our typical audience is extremely diverse with age, race and geographically,” says Stillman. “We have a lot of people come from out of the city. We are really focused on creating community connections in New Orleans. I’m all for being known better in our own backyard.”
The artists themselves, however, are looking for a more emotional experience.
“When people walk by I want them to experience some of what I experience,” says Bechet. “I want them to feel something. I think the worst thing is for someone to walk by your work and not feel something. I hope they feel what I feel. Whether it’s joy or agony. There’s a level of my work that I hope reaches a sense of spirituality.”
For more information on the exhibition venues, visit prospectneworleans.org.